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The college conversation just changed dramatically overnight.

Until now, it’s been about whether a family can afford to send a child to college.

Today, it’s about which colleges are close enough that the child can go for free while living at home. Can the child live with a family member or friend who lives near a college? Can the family afford a car for a commute to the desired college? Maybe two students’ families can share the cost?

It’s become a question of logistics. Overnight.

I’m not discounting the value of living at college. I think living at college is as valuable as the classes. But living at college is ridiculously overpriced. What you pay for a shared room, with no bathroom, kitchen, or living room, for about 9 months a year, is much more than you’d pay for a full apartment for an entire year.

It’s outrageous. No landlord would be able to get away with it – except these colleges.

Perhaps the free tuition measure will lose them so many boarders that they will be forced to address their prices.

Personally, I would change the part in the bill where the program only pays out AFTER federal aid is taken into account. Federal aid CAN be used for room and board, while the free tuition program cannot, so I don't want federal aid to count toward tuition.

But this is minor. I remember counseling my Girl Scouts to be careful – so many minority children from families with no college graduates go into debt and end up not graduating. I wavered between encouraging them to go and worrying that I was leading them to ruin. Some of them went on to work for Albany Medical Center Hospital, hoping to get into the free nursing school offered to exceptional employees. They had to agree to work there for years – before, during and after graduating – but it was worth it to them, to get an affordable college education.

Now, all that has changed overnight. If you have the ability, you can get the degree.

Sure, you might have to live at home while you get it. But you will be able to get the degree.

I never thought this would happen in my lifetime.

You can reach Kathleen Moore at 742-3247 or kmoore@poststar.com. Follow her on Twitter @ByKathleenMoore or at her blog on www.poststar.com.

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