President Obama’s proposal to have the federal government pay for 75 percent of the average cost of community college is being embraced by Obama supporters as a return to “hope and change” and opposed by his opponents as another government giveaway with socialist overtones on a the scale of the Affordable Care Act. They can’t both be right.
The President’s proposal, announced in his State of the Union address, does represent a sea change in the government’s role in financing post secondary education, not unlike “No Child Left Behind” that will have historical significance. It is, however, more than an educational policy. It is essentially an economic strategy that when coupled with his push on immigration, minimum wage, paid sick leave and tax reform could reverse the decline of the middle class.
Nearly two thirds of all American jobs will require postsecondary certificates and degrees by 2018. In addition, economic forecasts project that 20 million workers with a postsecondary education will be needed over the next 15 years. Failure to meet this demand will exacerbate the current trends in income equality further endangering the middle class.
The sixty billion dollars in costs over the next 10 years is a significant investment, but the federal government and the states are already providing substantial financial assistance for a majority of community college students. The President’s proposal would shift the money currently funding community college tuition in the form of grants and loans to a funding formula for community colleges. The resulting outcome of a better educated workforce will translate into more taxpayers paying taxes on better paying jobs and will reduce the number of Americans who now need some form of financial assistance. The return on the investment is far greater than the cost.
More accountability for students and institutions
The President’s proposal would also provide oversight and accountability for community colleges that will encourage institutions to re-examine their mission and role in our 21st century economy and culture.
In return for a free education, students will be required to attend college at least half-time, maintain a 2.5 GPA and steady progress towards completing their program. This will be no small task considering current student success rates at community colleges are unacceptably low, 16 percent according to the National Center for Educational Statistics Report for 2014. With many students taking as much as 200 percent of normal time to complete their programs and far too many of them enrolled in programs inadequately articulated with high schools and 4 year colleges or connected to the job market.
The real change will come in the form of the President’s expectations for the community colleges. His proposal, which is only broadly sketched out at this point, will address the issues raised in a self-study published by the American Association of Community Colleges in 2012. That report called on America’s community colleges to increase access, to develop coherent educational pathways to careers and further learning, and to provide support services to address the achievement gap that exists across groups of community college students.
The President’s proposal is far reaching in its increased access to a basic right essential to citizenship, its assistance to those in greatest need, its reallocation of existing resources to a smarter way to provide educational services and its potential to positively impact our economy and improve the quality of life for a new generation.
Is there anything to be against?