Thursday, January 22, 2015
Obama's free two-year community college proposal
In his State of the Union Address on Tuesday night, President Obama called for free community college education as part of many new, bold steps to helping the middle class economically and socially.
On the surface, this plan seems laudable and promising. It is not hard to believe, after all, that a high school degree promises less and less success in the job market as it used to, and not only drags people behind individually but as a nation as well. In his speech, Obama claimed that "by the end of this decade two in three jobs will require a some higher education." This program would save the average student almost $4,000 and help anyone from teenagers to veterans. However, proposals in speeches like this one are always given to simplicity and ambiguity, so I think it's ultimately too early to deem this program good or bad or viable.
First, I fear that without stricter guidelines this program may waste tax dollars on students who are not actually in need of financial aid, since this applies to all students. Many times students go to community college because they cannot afford private colleges, but can afford community college. Furthermore, the administration claims that the average full-time student would save $3,800 in tuition per year, which is applied before other federal aid is calculated, such as additional Pell Grants, for example (insidehighered). The lack of targeting funds may lead the American government to spending money where it isn't most needed.
Another one of my concerns is the fact that accessibility is only one aspect of getting a college education. It is important to make sure that the students not only can enroll, but that they are also able to succeed in their courses, graduate in a timely matter, and be able to easily apply their degrees into the job market. Obama did mention that community colleges would work directly with companies to make sure the degrees fit the jobs in high demand right now, which I think is a commendable move. However, in the Tennessee and Chicago free tuition policies (which Obama saw as promising, smaller projects of his own) not only reformed the price of a college education, but also offered "close monitoring of student progress, careful alignment of courses to transfer and job requirements, clearer and more coherent programs of study" etc as a part of a larger reform initiative (TIME). I think this is the way to go to guarantee educational prosperity, since it completely follows the student from enrollment to graduation, whereas a $0 price tag only initiates the education process.
My last concern is the cost. The White House estimates this program costing $6 billion a year, with states paying for 25% of this subsidy (TIME). I fear that either states will refuse to raise that much money or that money will only be shifted in the bureaucracy so that previous funds are reallocated to other departments, ultimately not giving the colleges and program much new money.
Despite these concerns, I think President Obama is taking an admirable step forward and creates an open discussion in the democratic party (especially possible presidency candidates) on higher education for all citizens.
1. Do you support Obama's proposal?
2. What concerns do you have for his plan?
3. Why do you think he'd propose such a bold plan when the Republican-controlled Congress will (very likely) not pass it through?