First of all, wrangling over student loans and interest rates and refinancing obscures the long-term vision – public colleges and universities should be free to attend. Or at least as close to free as possible. Though it may take time for the majority of the public to realize it, this idea is not far-fetched. The United States currently spends enough on grant aid, tax preferences and loan subsidies to cover the cost of tuition at every public college and university.
Tuition is not the only expense, and more funding would be needed to make college free or near-free. But using existing resources – and moreover, returning them to pre-recession levels – gets us a lot of the way there. Think of it as a two-track alternative: first, a “public option,” subsidized by states and the federal government, available to students attending public institutions. If a student wants to attend a private college instead, that’s fine, but they shouldn’t benefit from public subsidies to do so. Ultimately, competition from a free college option will probably bring down the cost of private higher ed, which can be accomplished by removing the vast administrative bloat, outrageous executive compensation and unnecessary spending that characterizes far too many of these institutions.