On the evening of Monday, Jan. 20, President Obama delivered his annual State of the Union speech, returning to familiar topics of immigration, health care and the economy. One of the more prevalent and talked about issues was education. During the speech, Obama revealed his two primary goals concerning college education to make America the country with the highest proportion of college graduates and to attain an additional 5 million college graduates by 2020. His discussion of education goals culminated in a declaration that “free community college is possible.”
Obama pointed out in his State of the Union speech that “two in three job openings will require some higher education… And yet, we still live in a country where too many bright, starving Americans are priced out of the education they need.” His plan allows students who earn a GPA of 2.5 or higher to receive a free two years of community college. They must attend at least half time and make progress towards completing their program to qualify.
More specifically, his plan entails expanding existing grants for education funding by three percent, which will ultimately increase the current educational spending of 67.1 billion to 70.7. To achieve this goal, Obama laid out a budget proposal that includes requests for education-related tax reforms and the first installment of a 10 year, 60 billion dollar plan to make community college free for “anyone who is willing to work for it,” meeting the GPA requirements and attending classes at least half time. The White House predicts that 9 million students will participate and save around $3,800 a year for two years.
However, many who work in education have voiced their doubt and opposition to the plan. According to US News, professor of finance, Thomas W. Miller stated his belief that “college education should decidedly not be free to students. There must be a price, even if it is a low one, on college education.” He declares that low cost or free education causes students to forget its value.
Additionally, The New York Times pointed out that community college is virtually free due to Federal Pell Grants and state aid, yet there is still an issue with the rate of completion among community college students. According to the Community College Research Center of Columbia University, community colleges have a 22 percent completion rate. The US Department of Education also says that only 18 percent of students complete their two-year degree in three years. But, a 2009 study by the Contemporary Economic Policy proved that completion of a college degree could make a significant difference. According to the study, females who graduate with a four-year degree earned about 46 percent more than women with only a high school education. The same was true for men at a 12 percent advantage.
According to the Washington Post, California is a concrete example of effectively “free” community college as it boasts the nation’s lowest average community college tuition and highest participation levels. Yet, the Washington Post also points out, a majority of California community college students never earn a degree or certificate. About 42 percent of students intending to earn a bachelor’s degree transfer to a four-year school. In California’s community college system, free education, coincides with reduced resources for students. Additionally, there is a 50 percent second-year return rate among students because the cost of leaving college is less with no student loans. Michal Kurlander, an education professor at the University of California, and Jacob Jackson, a researcher at the Public Policy institute of California, believe Obama’s plan will make other states mirror the present education system in California.
Another reason for voiced opposition on many news sources is the belief that free education does not necessarily coincide with success both in college and after college. CNN pointed out that the new plan would “perilously undercut the emergence of more innovative educational programs designed to help students succeed in the workforce.”