Pigs can fly, gas is 80 cents a gallon and children of middle- and lower-income families can get a quality college education at little or no expense.
Which of these is the least likely statement?
I expected to see airborne swine before seeing middle- and low-income families being able to send their kids to college without breaking the bank.
Stanford University just made that possible. The university announced last year that it would increase the amount it takes from its $17 billion endowment from 5 percent to 5.5 percent. It will use $114 million of that to cover costs for students from low- and moderate-income families.
The benefits of this move are far-reaching, but they are not wholly altruistic. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, is the ranking minority member of the Senate Finance Committee, and he is taking a hard look at college endowment funds to see if they benefit students, as they're supposed to, or if they are simply depositories for tax-exempt donations. His strong words have spurred several universities -- starting with Harvard and Yale -- to re-examine policies.
At Stanford, the program gives the children of families earning less than $60,000 a free ride, including living expenses. For families whose income is under $100,000, students get free tuition, but must cover living expenses. In all, families of around 1,330 students will be getting a break this fall.
The students are expected to work about 7½ hours a week on campus to offset some costs. The money they earn will be used for books, student fees and other charges.
But the biggest benefit is that for Stanford students, loans will be become a thing of the past. With the graduated payment system in place, no student should have a debt load or payments to make upon graduation. This is almost as big a benefit as the education itself.
Enormous amounts are held in college endowment funds. It is estimated that 136 colleges have at least $500 million each tucked away. This money is supposed to benefit students.
Stanford was established as a tuition-free university, but had become one of the nation's most expensive. Now, trustees are moving toward the original goal, at least for some students. At the same time, the school is remaining on the good side of the Senate Finance Committee.
Colleges learn as well as teach, or at least I hope they do. The University of California and California State University systems have a lot of learning to do with regard to the use of their endowments. If Stanford had to lead and teach them the fundamentals, so be it. Each has a history of raising student fees on a regular basis; I wonder if there is a commensurate increase in the overall quality of the education, or if the fees go to administrative programs with only a slight benefit to students.
The UC and CSU systems turn out a lot of students who have received good educations, but one of the things they don't do is turn out students who can face the world debt-free; many are encumbered with student loans upon graduation. This is a disservice, especially in a society where uncontrolled debt is plaguing everyone.
UC and CSU have a lot of learning to do. Hopefully, they won't be too proud to learn a valuable lesson from Stanford.
Bultena, a retired Merced County deputy district attorney, is a former visiting editor. E-mail him at email@example.com.