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When College Really Was Free
by Alex Cosper (February 23, 2016)

Free education is impossible - according to several candidates in the 2016 presidential election other than Bernie Sanders. This concept of free college is painted as a radical idea, yet it's something that used to be available, at least at my college. When I attended Sacramento State University in the 1980s, it actually was a free education, other than I had to pay for books. That's one of the main reasons I chose to stay in my hometown for my college education. I figured for what I wanted to do, which was pursue a career in radio, it was a sufficient institution for learning the basics of what I needed to know to work in media.

Many universities across the United States are funded by government grants and philanthropists. I consider my education from Sac State to be valuable and it turned out to be very useful in my radio career during an era when radio was run on a local level. The college provided an internship that led to my first paid radio job in my hometown. While most of the radio personnel across the dial came from other markets, I was happy to do what was considered the slower career approach in a fast-moving industry. Yet within eight years of earning my college degree, I became a program director in a major market, which is somewhat of a fast climb.

In early 2016 Sac State charged a tuition of over $5,000 for its undergraduate program and over $11,000 for its doctorate program. Students often have to get a government loan to pay for college now. Unfortunately, they rack up thousands of dollars in debt before they enter the workforce. The idea of raising the taxes on stock market investors from 15 percent to a higher rate could easily pay for free education, which would strengthen the entire economy.

Since my college experience led to many exciting years in the radio industry, it is hard to place any dollar amount on it. I'm glad that I chose not to specialize at that time since that could have led to a dead end. In radio I was able to run a successful independent station's programming in the age when alternative radio was as big as mainstream formats. Proving that it could happen in my hometown while mixing in local talent was very memorable and rewarding.

I can look at my career with pride but there was also plenty of luck involved. Not only did I go to college at a time when it was free, the college placed me in a job that lasted for over a decade. That was at a time when radio programmers had big influences on radio programming. At many stations the PD was responsible for everything that went on the air. These days there are several layers above PDs that shape the sound of radio, the job doesn't pay as much as it used to and it's not a prosperous time for radio compared with 20 years ago.

Even though none of the radio stations that hired me asked about my college education, in which I earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication Studies, I'm still glad I pursued a well-rounded education that I felt would be beneficial no matter which direction my career went. In the 80s free college education was a no-brainer, which is what it should be again.


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