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"America's College Promise" - Is the president's free community college proposal a good investment or a bad investment?

Plaintiff
In the 2015 State of the Union address President Obama promoted his previously announced proposal to use federal and state funding to make tuition at two-year community colleges free of charge. He pointed to Tennessee and Chicago, where free-tuition community college programs exist, and said, "I want to spread that idea all across America, so that two years of college becomes as free and universal in America as high school is today."

Full details of the plan have not been disclosed, but several points have been released by the White House and reported in the media:

- Estimated cost is $80 billion over ten years.
- The Federal Government would fund 75% of the cost ($60 billion); individual states would cover 25% ($20 billion).
- Tuition only would be covered, based on a national average of $3,800; books and supplies, transportation, and other incidental expenses would not be covered.
- Approximately 9,000,000 students could receive assistance under the proposal.
- Student eligibility would require making steady progress toward a certificate or degree; attending college at least half time; maintaining a 2.5 grade point average.
- College eligibility would require maintaining a high graduation rate and offering instruction in fields where there is high demand by employers.
- The proposal must be approved by Congress and participation must be approved by all 50 states.
- If approved, implementation could take several years before available to students.

Supporters of the proposal say it will allow opportunity for those currently unable to afford it; will provide a workforce with skills better matched to industry's needs; and that it will contribute to future national economic viability.

The proposal's critics say that low-income students already can get free Pell Grants; that tuition is a small share of the cost of attending a two year college; that a sliding scale based on income would more sensible than free for all; and that monies should be applied to total costs, not just tuition. Some question whether the contemplated industry-compatible training could be better delivered at the high school and 4-year college level.
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    • [-][+]My resolution
    • 4 years ago
    Lauren W. (Neutral)
    Education is always a hard topic to get people to agree on because so many different people have different ideas about what a proper education consists of. The idea proposed above is good, but it doesn't take into account the individuals who need a more relaxed environment (community college) to get started. In some cases individuals need community college because they have a family, or kids, family issues that need to be dealt with, undecided in the career path, and even wanting to take advantage of the flexibility that a community college offers. Providing students with two years of free education can change the lives of those individuals and the lives of others. Higher Education is extremely important and everyone should be provided with the same opportunities to have access to a higher education.
      • [-][+]My resolution
      • 12 Points
      • 4 years ago
      Shaneisha W. (Neutral)
      This sounds like a good plan on the surface, as critical details have not been released. Higher education is important, and many individuals who would like the option of going to college and gaining requisite knowledge for a particular career field, are unable to attend college based on their socio-economic status. The Pell Grant that is already in place does help, however, the Pell Grant is also limited, just as this initiative to make the first two years on college free. One has to actually qualify for the Pell Grant, and there are many students who do not qualify for government grants based on income because many use their parents' income. Sadly, the income of the parents is not a true representation of the ability of the student, or their family, to pay for the tuition and expenses related to attending college. Weighing the pros and cons on both sides of the spectrum, it would be more beneficial than not for there to be some sort of action where those who would like to obtain a certificate or degree, to have assistance that does not require the presence of a loan.
        • [-][+]My resolution
        • 4 years ago
        Brian W. (Neutral)
        There is good reason to promote higher education. The DOL's Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the higher the education level, the higher the median income and the lower the unemployment rate (http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_chart_001.htm). Even some who will recite examples of college drop-outs who have made millions (or billions) will admit that those are not the norm, and for most people, a college education will provide them better career earnings (http://www.investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/022615/go-college-or-become-entrepreneur.asp?partner=mediafed). That said, if more students complete two years of college, the associated benefits may disappear - to the extent that the current benefits are the result of relative scarcity. Comparing census data on education level achievement and the BLS unemployment and median salary data would suggest that at least some of the difference between levels is due to scarcity. If more people have 2-year of higher education, the same benefits may not be realized (acknowledging that data is US-only, and looking at the global economy might alter this).

        I think there is also value to vocational/technical training ("trades"), particularly for those who may not be academically oriented. From the BLS data, one of the biggest jumps in pay and unemployment rates is achieved by graduating high school. Many high schools include vocational training as optional curriculum for interested students. To balance these things, the solution I propose is similar to some others: 1- Provide free and reduced tuition two-year, community college education to students, on a sliding scale based on income, weighted to assist poor and middle-class families, and 2- with the money saved from "needs testing," provide free and reduced tuition vocational/technical training with similar requirements (half-time or more, 2.5 GPA, steady progress, high demand fields, etc.) and "needs testing" as for community college students.
          • [-][+]My resolution
          • 4 years ago
          Janine Z. (Advocate for Plaintiff)
          Is a college education really the be-all and end-all? Is it worth it? – Why do we obsess over college classes? What about apprenticeships and trade / vocational schools? One kid from my child's high school went straight into a $90,000 / year job with NASCAR. My electrician makes far more than I do and loves his job just as much. I don't see that the US needs to keep subsidizing everyone; we need to get off the 'education' bandwagon and accept that trades are great careers without the huge time and money commitments. In the UK there's a lower minimum wage for apprentices--they are learning a skill and earning a small wage while doing so. The employer finds it worthwhile to teach when they get some limited help at a lower cost.
            • [-][+]My resolution
            • 4 years ago
            Sarah C. (Neutral)
            1) The requirement that students attend at least half the time seems to be setting a ridiculously low bar. I would like to see that requirement raised to at least 75% of the time.

            2) Students should also be required to meet with career advising regularly, and follow a course of study that will likely lead to a job. While some courses that aren't specifically job-related help make a student more well-rounded and can also help them to think more creatively, students in regular colleges have found to their cost that a degree in, say women's studies, is going to lead them only to poverty wages in a job they could have had without a degree. Taxpayer money should always be used in the most productive way possible.

            3) Clark Howard regularly advises students to do their gen ed requirements at community college and then transfer for the last two, in order to save money. So should ALL students get 100% free tuition? It seems to me that the money could be better spent on childcare, transportation and textbook grants.
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