Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Free Education

Well, as they say, nothing is free. But nominally free education is still available in the United States even in these Latter Days. Here are four such institutions. Not only does the qualifying student pay no tuition; in addition room and board are free as well:

U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, CO
U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, Kings Point, NY
U.S. Military Academy, West Point, NY
U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, MD
U.S. Coast Guard Academy, New London, CT

Students must undergo a qualification process in which they document superior educational achievements up to high school, demonstrate a less directly measurable leadership ability, qualify physically, and meet other requirements such as, for West Point for example, 17 but not yet 23, single status, no pregnancy, and no obligation to support a dependent child or children.

With all qualifications met—and the school still having room for you—you can get your four years of education absolutely free. But, in signing up for it, you commit yourself to serving five years in the military. And that, for some anyway, may mean what might be viewed as modest earnings. Let’s take a look.

A Second Lieutenant earns $34,517 a year, a First Lieutenant $39,769. Assume promotion to First Lieutenant after a year (18 months is more usual). In five years the person then will earn $193,593 or, on average, $38,719.

Now, to be sure, a war may be going on. Working conditions may be hazardous and the salary bumped a tad by combat pay. If all goes well and the graduate survives those obligatory five years of service, the actual cost of the education will be the difference between military pay and some hypothetical salary in the civilian sector. In today’s environment, for some individuals anyway, the difference may be nil or negative, suggesting that some things, given the right circumstances, might be free. And in addition, a job is guaranteed—right after school and also out five years and counting.

To the extent that education in practice, except for very small cohorts of the weird, means preparation for an occupation, the military does the best job of all of our institutions. Something to ponder…


  1. Yes, and interestingly, when planning for the future, the military tends to deal with facts on the ground, with the practical aspects of a situation and not worry so much about the politics of a thing. I'm thinking here about declining fossil fuel supplies and climate change. The military is quietly getting on with preparing for the likely future and not engaging in the endless debates about if it's really happening, when it will happen and why is it happening. Funny to think of the military as being on the cutting edge...

  2. Concerning your last point, Monique, one might say that the military has a national/global mission and is not distracted by the endless competition for power. Concerning mission, it is "wide"; not success in this quarter or in this narrow field. Concerning its lack of distraction, it can get on with the job. So the military is just "normal." But these days the normal will seem like cutting edge -- because we're all so rattled by excess noise.

    1. Yes, good points.
      Here's to "just normal"!


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