As we continue our discussions about “free college”, I feel I must repeat that, at this point in the series, I am just reflecting the issues and related thoughts that interested taxpayers, who are the ones who would have to directly or indirectly fund such a program, have expressed to me. I will admit, however, that at times in my many discussions, if we get into a topic, I may interject some of the things that I have researched and written about in the past in this column, in order to round out and expand the discussion, such as the remedial classes rate at community colleges nationwide.

As a result, some of the opinions may be anecdotal, and not fully researched, but they are anecdotal beliefs that many people hold and freely express.

I have also asked myself, why am I writing this series? I believe it is so that people can think about and evaluate the many details of any possible “free college” proposal, because I have thought about many of them. However, I have not developed a personal opinion. I am not even sure of what the end game might be. It may be that getting into the details and down into the weeds will make people say that it is just too complicated and it can never really be fair, to students and taxpayers, On the other hand, it may be that people accept a general and inclusive proposal, so that no one has to get overly concerned about the details, especially if it can be funded in an acceptable way.

As promised, in this column, I want to present some of the thoughts that I have heard about whether college is really necessary for everyone to be successful, and whether it is even advisable for some students.

Although the job market may be improving, virtually everyone I talk to knows college graduates who are underemployed (working at jobs that a smart high school graduate can do, and did in the past), working at a job unrelated to their field of study (their dream job that they spent all that money in college to prepare for), or even unemployed.

People tell me that they have seen, and know that we have ever increasing, “credential inflation” or “job qualification inflation” today, where people with college degrees are doing jobs that certainly DO NOT require post-secondary skills or knowledge. However, since employers can get college graduates to do them, at the same pay, that now becomes a requirement for the position. The problem that concerns people is that, because we have all of these non-college college jobs, does it become circular reasoning? Do we now “need” more college graduates?

When I hear that, I am reminded of a father from Wisconsin who told me he spent $80,000 to $100,000 to send one of his sons to a state four-year college. He just partied and was never really that serious, but he got through. Today “he is a good talker" and does OK, but he bounces around, and none of the things he has done have really required a college degree.

So the question people are asking me is, do we really need all those college graduates that we are told we need, and, therefore, would have to pay for under a ”free college” proposal, or do we just need more college graduates trained for the actual jobs that we need to have filled to grow our economy?

We all hear about the need for STEM students — science, technology, engineering and math — and the efforts to get more females to go into those areas. What I hear is that, if we are going to give anyone “free college," maybe we should ensure that they are in a program that they are really suited for, and which has a real prospect of employment for them. So if they are going to graduate in the bottom fourth of their class from a third-tier school in an area of study with not that many opportunities — WHY?

On the other hand, how many times a week do we hear about all of those decent-paying “middle skills” jobs, like specialized machinists, going unfilled, and the efforts of many community colleges to collaborate with industries and employers that need workers with those skills? What they need is not college, but an apprenticeship. Maybe we should pay for that, and other similar skills that could contribute to our economy, but are not ”college,” as we think of it. Maybe we should redefine college as any post-secondary training that is not offered in an updated and improved K-12 education, is appropriate for someone’s aptitude and interests, and is likely to result in needed and meaningful employment. Or, maybe we need to redefine what it means to be “A SUCCESS” in our society today.

What many people have said to me is they keep hearing that the key to success today is having good communication, critical thinking, and collaborative skills, which is what college teaches you, along with how to relate to the ”the elite” in society. Then they say to me, can’t we teach that in K-12? I don’t mean to “beat a dead horse," but so often the conversation seems to go back to that.

Next, we will get to “giving back."

John Ninfo is a retired bankruptcy judge and the founder of the National CARE Financial Literacy Program.