Friday, January 09, 2015

Two Free Years of Community College

That's president Obama's proposal:

President Obama on Friday will propose making community college tuition-free for “responsible students,” launching what officials described as an ambitious plan for the federal and state governments to widen access to higher education.
Under a program dubbed America’s College Promise, administration officials said, an estimated 9 million students a year nationwide could benefit. The average tuition savings for a full-time student at a public two-year college was estimated to be $3,800 a year.
Obama’s goal, said Cecilia Muñoz, the White House’s domestic policy director, is “to make two years of college the norm — the way high school is the norm.”

What do you think about that?  The proposal has many benefits.  It could decrease wealth and income inequality over time, because community colleges are increasingly the road poorer and minority students take and one of the few open gateways to higher education.  It could also attract more middle- and higher-income students into community colleges, and that could work to increase their funding.  It could even partially reverse the resegregation of white and minority students in higher education.

It's good to note here that community colleges teach an enormous number of students and are pretty badly financed.  Perhaps because of the lack of finance and the greater needs of the poorer students (and the open enrollment), the average graduation rate of community colleges is quite low.  Sixty-five percent of students who began in community colleges fail to get any kind of degrees within five years. 

I recommend that Richard Kahlenberg article in the above link to anyone who wishes to think about this proposal more deeply, even though it doesn't directly address the two-free-years proposal.  There are many clear advantages to the proposal, but the negatives should also be pointed out:  If the majority of students end up not graduating with any kind of degree from community colleges, wouldn't that tax subsidy be partly wasted?  And to avoid wasting it, wouldn't it be important to vastly increase the general funding of community colleges?