Is there/has there ever been a free college?

I’ve wondered off and on for years wether this idea has/ever could be a possibility.

Just for example, we’ll call it the Church of the Straight Dope, and pretend that there was a building that Cecil or anyone who could answer stood at the glorious pulpit and gave answers to any subject which could be taught about at the low cost of the well placed joke here and there at your expense.

This is perhaps a tad hard to explain exactly what I’m getting at, so to sum it all up: has there ever been an organization/building/cult which promoted free learning of any branch of knowledge through peer to peer learning systems.

I suppose I could go ahead and state that a library or the internet are not exactly in the spirit that I’m looking for.

Well… someone needs to pay the rent, buy the books, provide the space, etc.

In most of Europe, and also in Australia, for instance, college costs are close to “free” in the sense that they’re paid by taxes… if you pass the entry exams.

Mily Balakirev founded a free conservatory in St. Petersburg in the late 1800s. This was motivated largely by his desire to counteract the strong German influence being exerted over Russia’s musical consciousness by the all-German faculty of the Moscow conservatory. The St. Petersburg Conservatory existed for several years, and its concerts provided the perfect forum for the debut performances of many works by Balakirev and his friends: Cui, Rimsky-Korsikov, Mussorgsky, and Borodin.

Rice U. had no tuition before 1965. I don’t know about room and board, though.

I’m pretty sure that CUNY (City University of New York) had free tution until the 60s or 70s.

Zev Steinhardt

This month’s Reader’s Digest has a mention about a college that charges you nothing. Instead, you work there. It’s a farm-based college, and apparently you spend your free time roping cattle and such.

I’ll try and remember to look up the details when I get home.

It’s my understanding that the Cooper Union is completely free to its students, but it’s understandably difficult to get in.

Also the U.S. military academies are free, but again, you have to get in. And, of course, you have to want to be a military officer.

Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering still currently offers free tuition to all. The catch: they’re not yet accredited, but they’re no fly-by-night and will eventually get accredation.

The ancient Library of Alexandria was also a kind of university. It offered some free classes.

You may be thinking of Deep Springs College, located somewhere thoroughly disconnected from the rest of civilization on the Nevada/California border. It’s a small, isolated, all-male, tuition-free two year college that includes a significant portion of farm work as part of their program of liberal arts academics.

A good friend of mine from High School went there, and really enjoyed the experience, though it was quite different from almost any other college program. At one point, I got a package from him in the mail containing a dried cow pie.

Another option is the United States Merchant Marine Academy, located at Kings Point in Great Neck, Long Island, New York. Unlike the other service academies, which require active duty service after graduation, USMMA grads get a naval reserve commission but need not actively serve.

In Australia university education is far from free. There is no outlay during the course of the education because the governent provides a low interest loan that only needs to be repaid once income reaches a level that no normal fulll-time student ever makes.

However that isn’t the same as free. The cost still needs to be repaid and interest does accumulate on the umpaid fees. It still costs thousands or tens-of-thousands of dollars to receive a University education. While that money is collected by the tax department the costs aren’t paid by taxes, they are paid in addition to taxes just as a student loan would be in the US.

My father graduated from Rice University, and was a member of the last class to pay no tuition. Room and board was not included, nor were some fees, such as laboratory fees.

Rice accomplished this by having a huge endowment, and essentially subsidized the tuition of students who attended. In 1963, the Rice Board of Directors filed a lawsuit to allow Rice to modify its charter to charge tuition (and to admit students of all races). Even after Rice started charging tuition, however, tuition costs were (and are) still subsidized by the school. When I attended there in the late '80s/early 90’s, tuition was about half that of comparable private schools.

Here is what people are saying now about Rice:
“Best Buys of 2004,” Fiske Guide to Colleges, 2004
“Best academic bang for your buck,” Princeton Review, 2003
2nd in the 100 best values among the nation’s 1, 300 private universities, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, 2004
Top ten, Best Values: National Universities-Doctoral, US News & World Report, 2004


A USMMA graduate is not totally off the hook for their free education, though.

From here:

I’m a little surprised that nobody has picked up on this one yet. Berea College , in Kentucky, provides free tuition to every student, and offers jobs and financial aid depending upon need to help with the rest of the expenses.

And this isn’t a crappy school - US News recently ranked it as the #1 School in the South

Olin eventually hopes to be competitive with other top institution in the science and engineering fields, such as Mit CalTech, Harvey Mudd College, and Virginia Tech. Because the price tags for those places are so high, they figured that offering the first couple classes free tuition would be a major draw.

I heard a story, though I’m not sure it’s true, that it began with an argument between Harvey Mudd and the Olin Foundation. The Olin people wanted to place one spot on the board of trustees and Harvey Mudd said no. At which point, Olin basically stormed off saying “Fine. We’ll start our own top-ranked college of engineering. With blackjack. And hookers…”

The California University system was free for qualified residents back in the 60s. So of course Ronnie had to kill that ASAP.

In states like Georgia with lottery funded scholarships, called “Hope” in GA, the amount is set to the standard in-state tuition at state schools+a little for fees. So it’s virtually free for qualifying graduates of Georgia High Schools. (You can also get a Hope Scholarship for attending private schools, but the difference between private tuition and the scholarship is your responsibility.) Since the Hope has allowed so many poor and middle class kids to get college educations, there are quite a few plans afoot to “make it fair”, if you know what I mean.

Drat, tpayen, you beat me to it (I was accepted by Berea a few weeks ago. :smiley: ) It’s not completely free, you still pay room & board, books, and other supplies you might need, but the tuition is paid, the amount based on your income. You also have to work for them a minimum of 10 hours a week, but you get a small wage from that too. It’s a neat place.

In Florida, tuition is free at public universities and community colleges if you graduate high school with the following: 1270 on your SATs, 3.5 GPA, and 75 community service hours. Many states have similar lottery funded programs.

All California community colleges were free between about 1960 and 1984, as well. Then the fees went up to $5 / unit. Then to $11 / unit. Now $18 / unit. Soon to be $26 / unit…

From what I’ve read, tuition may have been free at The Log College The building shown in the link no longer stands, but a marker has been erected, as well as road namings, and the local public school system.

Additional comments on local history may be found here.