A few months ago I heard about a program called ‘Freshman Year For Free’. Really? I almost didn’t even bother to look it up because it sounded way too good to be true. I’m so glad I did! If you can’t afford college but really want to work on getting a degree this is a program you have to check into!
Modern States Educational Alliance is an organization founded by Steve Klinsky who is the founder and chairman. This whole ‘come get a year of free college’ is for real. Recently, Steve agreed to speak with me about the program, why he thinks it can be a help to so many, and share some of his other endeavors to improve education.
New Mountain Capital
First, I wanted to find out a little more about what Steve does for a living, since it isn’t everyone who can come up with a program that offers free college to people. I knew that he founded New Mountain Capital, a private equity firm, but to be honest had no idea what that is! Steve explained that New Mountain is a general partner of a larger fund of money that comes from sources such as state pension plans, university endowments, and institutional investors.
New Mountain does not invest money in the stock market. They use the funds given to them to buy entire companies and then run and build those companies. The profits go back to the investors. New Mountain owns about 20 different companies at any given time. They build businesses across a wide range of industries but focus on companies they determine are going to do well regardless of the economy.
“I want a fuller life beyond just my business life.” Steve Klinsky
Steve grew up in suburban Detroit as a public school kid and went to the University of Michigan. He was able to place out of some courses using Advanced Placement. He then went on to business and law school.
One of the big influences in his life was his older brother Gary. Gary was in 7th grade when Steve was in kindergarten. Every day after school Gary would do homework with Steve and help him with reading and his other subjects. Gary passed from away from illness when he was 29.
It mades sense he wanted to help out by establishing after school programs in the New York school system. Steve did so in his brothers name as a way to honor him. The Gary Klinsky Childrens Center is where it all started but his interest in giving back began in his high school years.
After taking a course on utopian societies he was intrigued with the idea of ‘doing things better’ and that was the start of his interest in charitable endeavors. Like many of us Steve says he was, “Just a teen trying to make it through high school.” He worked doing writing for a local newspaper and worked in the family business. In high school he thought he might become a journalist and had no idea he would end up in the business he is in now.
“By the early 90’s I was in a good place in my career. My impulse has always been that it is important to do something meaningful in addition to your career and I wanted to do something in my brothers memory. As I thought about his influence and help after school I decided I wanted to do an after school program. I got connected with the Brooklyn Community Services Bureau and we worked together in East New York. It was a crime ridden area at the time and was a place that really needed help.” Steve Klinsky, Co-Founder Modern States
The program started with about 60 kids in 1993 and is still going today. Steve and his partners have given or raised over 20 million dollars in public and private donations. Thousands of kids have been through the program with 600-800 coming through every day in multiple schools. These students stay voluntarily for an extra 2 or 3 hours a day for additional educational opportunities. It’s incredible!
Can’t Afford College?
Freshman Year For Free is like a public library. Courses are available for free to anyone who want to take advantage of them. This breaks down the barriers for those who can’t afford college and makes it possible. Adults who simply want to learn the material can take a course or teens can take the course, go and take the CLEP exam and earn college credit if they pass. The courses are available to anybody anywhere but the major use is to help users reduce their college costs.
Steve is going to pay for the first 10,000 CLEP tests personally and then hopes to raise other funds to keep everything going. If you take your first year through this program you can reduce your overall college expenses by 25%. This means your whole freshman year is actually free. The course is free, resources are free, and Steve is going to pay for you to take the CLEP test if you get into the program soon enough!
It’s important to know this is true charity. There are no catches. Everyone qualifies. You can take just one or all of the courses. Modern States wants to help people get the knowledge they need and help students get a degree for less money and go into less debt.
Everyone knows that the high cost of college is a real problem, student debt is a real problem. Freshman Year For Free is one solution, not the whole solution, but one path to help a lot of people. David Vise, Executive Director of Modern States
Our conversation made a huge impression on me for a few reasons. First, he took the time to speak to me personally. It’s evident that he is truly passionate about helping make education accessible to anyone who wants it. Second, he is using his wealth to make the world a better place. That isn’t a small thing. In my opinion Steve doesn’t owe anybody anything and yet here he is donating millions of dollars to education. He doesn’t want anything in return. Finally, the Freshman Year For Free program is simple and available to people everywhere.
Free college? It doesn’t get any better than that. It might not be the perfect solution to the education problem in our country but it is a step in the direction of actually making a difference in the lives of real people.
If you are interested to find out more simply visit the Modern States website. It’s easy to get started and like I’ve mentioned before, it’s free!