In a recent debate between rivals for the Democrat party’s nomination for the upcoming Presidential election, Sen. Bernie Sanders made several references as to why/how college education should be free in the US. Not to be outdone, our former Secretary of State, Mrs. Clinton, seemed to allude that not only should a college education be free to citizens, but to undocumented migrants as well.

Lost in the weeds of the discussion is the question – do folks want a free “education” or a free “undergraduate degree?” It may seem like a distinction without a difference, but the difference is, as Donald Trump might say, huuuugggge.

First and foremost, education is simply the act or process of being educated. Education is, and has always been, free. Yes, that’s right. It’s a simple process. You identify something that you want to know more about. You find out more about that something. You’re now educated on that something. Simple enough, yes.

As an example, I want to build a strong and durable fence around 3/4 of my property. I don’t want to spend a ton of money, I want to source materials locally, and I want to do it as a project that involves my children’s schooling. My oldest daughter and I set about to educate ourselves as to historical wall/fence building techniques in our rural area, then broadened the search to include techniques from cultures who’ve existed in areas with similar geography and climate. We ended up finding that the beginning of the China’s Great Wall in the Gobi had the right design features and materials to match what we wanted to do. We’ve got plenty of dirt and our local lake has a problem with cat tails / bull rush that need constant clearing (free materials). The info we found even suggested building methods that could easily be adapted to our modern situation. So it is, my daughter and I are now “educated” as to an appropriate building method to construct a wall around our property (I seriously doubt that the original builders of the wall in the Gobi were required to have a degree a degree in structural engineering and certification as a civil engineer).

In another example, I recently completed an on-line class on Human Vision and Perception (continuing education for my profession) at Duke University for free, part of the Coursera project’s offerings. With Coursera, you can take classes from some of the “best” colleges and universities in the world for free.

Pick your topic, and the internet can supply you with a ton of information so that you can educate yourself.

But folks really don’t want an “education.” They want a free “degree.” Amazingly enough, those opportunities exist as well. Check out the University of the People’s web site to find out how to earn a degree in Business Administration or Computer Science on-line for “free.” But even the UOP program isn’t entirely free, there’s still a sign-up fee and fees to take exams. But, it’s pretty cheap.

Ok. We’ve found a “free” degree for folks. That should be it, right? Not even close.

The first objection will be to the on-line format. Then, it will be to the status of their accreditation. Then, the complaints will be towards the ability to leverage the degree earned from UOP in gaining employment (after all, the lawyers on Suits all come from Harvard). All of which are BS. For many young people, the college experience as such is just a 6 year extension of their childhood and a delay of accepting full responsibility for their lives. How many go to college to “find themselves?” I did. Should tax payers have to fund this “fact finding mission?” No.

The way we should handle “education,” if the Libertarians were involved in the discussion, is to focus on the market. Moral capitalism seeks to fill a need. I see that folks need X to make their lives more livable, safe, fun, etc. I provide X at a reasonable price. I make money to support my efforts and folks have their lives enriched. The market reacts to what I’m doing, spurring further innovation. Education, and “finding yourself,” should be centered around finding those things that each of us can do to better our situation and the situation of those around us. We should be raising generation after generation of entrepreneurs, inventors, builders, artists, … We should not be paying for an “education” in General Studies so that the graduate can be a well rounded delivery driver for the local pizza franchise.

Thus, as no one is calling BS on the media or the Democrats, I will. Education is already free. A university degree can also be earned at little/no cost to the student.

So what do they really want?