Ds Scholarship

Free college? Try Scholarships for Service

President Biden’s Plan for American Families adds to a long list of proposals to make colleges affordable, in this case with two free years at community college. Meanwhile, the 2021 US Bailout Act includes a $1 billion increase in National Service, through AmeriCorps.

In the New Contract with the Middle Class, Isabel Sewell and Richard Reeves argue that these two goals must be combined—post-secondary education as a public good, and the establishment of a standard for public service. They agree with President Biden that college (or its professional equivalent) should be free for at least two years — but only for those who take up a year of national service. They call the Service Scholarship Scheme.

Why college is free for two years

The rapid rise in the direct costs associated with attending college over the past several decades has increased the number of Americans taking out student loans. About 75% of student loan borrowers have taken loans to go to two- or four-year colleges; These borrowers account for about half of all outstanding student loan debt. As Sohail and Reeves wrote:

“The idea of ​​making college free has instant appeal. Middle-class families know their children will need more than just a high school education to thrive, but are concerned about debt. Critics of free college proposals (including us) point out that because students from wealthy families attend more expensive colleges, free college proposals that seem progressive are often regressive in practice.

This argument can be made—and was made, in fact, a century ago—against the idea of ​​providing a free high school. At some point, Americans decided that secondary education should be provided as a public good. In the first half of the 20th century, the average American could climb into the middle class with a high school diploma alone, and our education system reversed this reality by making kindergarten through 12th grade free. Another criticism is that completion of study is now a greater concern than enrollment; That’s true, but there are effective programs that provide the support students need to earn a degree or certificate, and that needs to be expanded.”

Why more national service

While the free debate continues in college, President Biden signed the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act that included $1 billion to expand opportunities for national service through AmeriCorps programs. Renewed interest in national service has led to further debate about whether more young Americans are willing to embrace national service, and even whether it should be mandatory, as in many other states..

The demand certainly appears to be there: In most years over the past decade or so, the applicant-to-opportunity ratio at AmeriCorps has likely been three to five applicants per available time slot. Many Americans would like to serve, but the opportunities for them to do so through national programs are limited. The U.S. Bailout Act increases AmeriCorps’ living allowance to make service more accessible and inclusive and helps stabilize existing national service programs and expand into new communities.

Offer: Grants for service

Reeves and Sawhill write that, “In today’s economy, having a high school diploma is not enough. Post-secondary education or training is now the gateway to the American dream. We need a free public education system from kindergarten through basic education. But in the spirit of partnership that this decade underpins , free college or professional training shall be conditional on the time specified in military or civilian volunteer work: service scholarships.”

Specifically, they suggest that anyone who completes a year of full-time national service, whether military or civilian, will be entitled to two years of free education at any public higher education institution in their state, including technical and vocational colleges, or in vocational training Government backed with an employer. Reeves and Sewell believe that national service And Post-secondary learning should be the norm for every young American. By combining service responsibility with the right to higher education, they hope to encourage both.

How much does college or free training cost, under the Service Scholarship Scheme? It will depend on how many people accepted the offer, the colleges they attended afterward, the number of years they attended, and the states they attended. But to clarify, the bypass It is assumed that one-third of young Americans perform a year of service and then complete two years of post-secondary training or education. The cost of the free college component would be approximately $20 billion annually and, according to the authors, a much-needed investment in both our nation’s social capital and the human capital of its future citizens.

More national service and more access to public colleges

Reeves and Sawhill want a world in which the question “Where do you serve you?” is normal like “Where are you from?” or “Where did you go to school?”. The idea of ​​large-scale voluntary national service is popular, with about four in five Americans supporting it. Additionally, 63% of Americans support the idea of ​​free education at public colleges. The idea of ​​Reeves and Sawhill’s Scholarships for Service combines the right to higher education with the responsibility of service.


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