College for free? America can afford it: Opinion

By Jim Namiotka/The Star-Ledger

Americans’ student loan debt now tops an unimaginable $1 trillion. In New Jersey, nearly two-thirds of college grads leave school with some measure of debt, averaging nearly $30,000 apiece. Those are the ones who graduate.

Millions of low-income students will never apply to four-year colleges at all — scared away by the cost of a college degree.

In a weak attempt to do something about student loan debt, federal lawmakers capped loan rates last month. That’s hardly enough. New Jersey is considering a concept to offer tuition at a state university or college in exchange for a percentage of grads’ income for 20 years or more. That’s still a shockingly high price tag.

Why can’t college be free?

That’s the question being asked by Robert Samuels, a California college professor who says the billions being spent on college aid could be pooled and redirected to the nation’s public universities. At $130 billion a year, that’s enough to pay for a four-year bachelor’s degree for anyone who wants one — covering tuition, room and board.

Samuels is president of the University Council-American Federation of Teachers and teaches writing at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His latest book, “Why Public Higher Education Should Be Free,” was published by Rutgers University Press.