Free College = Mandatory Public Service

Earlier today, I was watching Meet The Press. Tom Brokaw, the veteran NBC News correspondent, was a guest on the panel. He brought up a Bernie Sanders campaign proposal, that the Democratic Nominee, Hillary Clinton, has since adopted: Making College debt-free for families with income up to $125,000 and a family making $85,000 a year or less will be able to go to college without paying tuition.

I think everyone should have access to a college education and I don’t think they should be required to drown in debt to do it; but – shouldn’t it come with a commitment?

Shouldn’t the student have skin in the game?

  • Free College = Mandatory Public Service

Students/Parents/Retirees volunteer for a wide variety of reasons, especially wanting to help others. But it’s OK to want some benefits for yourself from volunteering.

Some people are uncomfortable with the notion that a volunteer ‘benefits’ from doing volunteer work.

There is a long tradition of seeing volunteering as a form of charity, based on altruism and selflessness. The best volunteering does involve the desire to serve others, but this does not exclude other motivations, as well.

  • Volunteer To Serve 

I want to be completely transparent; I am a proud veteran of the United States Army.

"TANK HILL" Ft. Jackson, South Carolina. Echo Company, 10th Battalion, 1st Brigade, 1st Platoon - PVT. Nick Smith (5th Row, 4th from Left)

“TANK HILL” Ft. Jackson, South Carolina. Echo Company, 10th Battalion, 1st Brigade, 1st Platoon – PVT. Nick Smith (5th Row, 4th from Left)

As I’ve written before, I grew up in a single-parent home. My mother did her best to carve out a middle-class existence for the two of us. My community was clean, safe and racially diverse. Neighbors and their children, knew one another by name, shopped at the same stores, went to the same schools and often worshiped at the same Baptist Church.

Until her retirement, I’d never known my mother not to work full-time. In fact, she had a successful career with Illinois Bell, which would later become Ameritech, until her retirement.

But still, money was tight. The cost of college would’ve been a huge financial hit. This made my decision to volunteer for military service, twofold:

(1) I lacked purpose and wasn’t sure what I was meant to do with my life.
(2) The idea of earning money for college and learning more about myself, sounded like a good idea.

The benefits of the latter, I wouldn’t understand or appreciate until my Honorable Discharge six years later.

I had just been promoted to E-2 - oh the hair? We'll ignore that. Blame it on youth & the late 80's!

I had just been promoted to E-2 – oh the hair? We’ll ignore that. Blame it on youth & the late 80’s!

  • Conscription = Mandatory Military Service

According to about seventy-three countries have some form of conscription or mandatory military service, including Austria, Israel, Mexico & Norway.

Whether or not you believe men and women should be ‘required’ to serve, is very different from what I learned the ‘benefits’ of military service to be: sacrifice, selflessness, camaraderie and most importantly, diversity. Not all of my military brothers came from a supportive and loving home. Not all of the other 17, 18, 19 and 20 somethings sharing my military barrack had finished high school, let alone, given thought to college. At the start, we were all different. After fourteen weeks together, much blood, sweat and tears, we had become a family.

For me, running seems to be the only exercise that will take off the weight!

Army Pride! Don’t run as fast/long as I did as an enlistee – but I’m at it!

Part of our nation’s conversation must include the need to know, help and be a brother/sister to our neighbors, either in a military uniform or out.

The topic of “free college” or “sending military members into combat” must include highlighting the sacrifice families make and why everyone should be required to required to “give back”.

Service to the country shouldn’t be an after-thought – but if one of the many reasons one chooses to volunteer (or is required to) is to supplement the cost of college tuition, learn more about the world and the country we live in, I’m all for it.

Conscription? Mandatory Community Service? Chuck Todd closed his segment by saying, “It’s time we have that conversation.” I completely agree.