Can Yale -- the formidable pillar of American higher education -- provide education to its students free of charge? Yale senior Eric Stern thinks so. Writing in the Yale Herald, Stern profiles Berea College in Kentucky, a school that offers free tuition to its 1,600 undergraduate students. Extrapolating Berea’s tuition model, and applying it to the vast endowment of Yale, Stern argues persuasively that his Ivy League alma mater can implement the same for its student body. Even applying conservative constraints onto Yale’s finances, the verdict remains clear: every Yale student could attend for free.
This is striking. If Yale can be free, then why have its administrators failed to lead in the direction of affordable higher education -- with the decisive steps only they can take? Stern’s reporting explains many of the reasons Yale and their large research university peers choose not to take the demonstrably feasible lead. Though defensible in some cases, the upshot of these explanations is that free college tuition is possible but less comfortable a choice than the broken status quo.
There are always convenient reasons not to do the difficult things we must do to make America better. Offering free college tuition is one of those challenging musts. Certain communities and states have already offered the promise of free college. It is the Campaign for Free College Tuition’s goal to draw attention to their leadership and inspire more of it in other stakeholders.
If Yale can be free, if the “Big 20” research universities can be free -- If Berea can be free! -- then so can all colleges. Yes, free college tuition is more complicated than balancing an excel worksheet. To deliver higher education at no cost to students, governments, schools, and communities have to work together. But, free college is resoundingly two things -- attainable, and necessary -- for American success.
If you read Eric Stern’s story -- in full below or at the Yale Herald website -- the real kicker comes in the closing paragraphs. By attaching transactional value to education, universities obscure the real value of their offerings: curious inquiry, enlightenment, individual fulfillment, and ultimately, prosperity enjoying by each of us alone and all of us together as a flourishing society.
Free is not $0. Offering an education for free -- something America has done more substantially through history including now K-12 -- is a statement about who we are as people. We have recognized the need for our children to have higher education, just as we realized that same need in the past with primary schooling. What’s left is to make the corresponding decision that no American child should fear the cost of higher education, nor shoulder that burden themselves. The price of higher education is a cost we must all bear together, as stewards of the American Dream.
To learn more about the Campaign for Free College Tuition, read our plan.
Our goal is to make higher education a possibility for every American, without regard to their financial circumstances.
We have a lot to do and not much time to do it, so your support is critical for our campaign to succeed. It’s with your investment that we can fundamentally reform how higher education is financed in this country, opening the doors to a more equitable society.
If you agree with our goal, our plan, and the urgency of the problem, we ask that you give what you can to help us write the next chapter in our nation’s history of continuously expanding access to universal, free education.