Wait. Free college??!?!

fig-3_0Last week, Pres. Obama proposed making two years of community college free and universal. It faces, of course, an uphill battle.

This is  wonderful, but it’s not new. A commission in the 1940s suggested something like this, free education all the way up to the “14th grade.” The potential for this could be huge, according to a report from Demos. From that report, such a program

would have the practical effect of increasing the Maximum Pell Grant by 50%. But the federal government and colleges provide aid, and students borrow for, the total cost of attendance beyond tuition. Eliminating tuition would still result in low-income and working-class students having unmet financial need.

If we instead focused on making community college debt-free, students wouldn’t have to worry about whether or not they can cobble together enough financial aid to meet the total cost of college.




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  1. I think this is a great idea in theory! I haven’t looked at the details. I would think there would have to be a credit available for those who choose 4-yr colleges/universities, too, though. Would the Comm Colleges be able to handle the volume of students? Flexibility is key on implementation, I’m thinking. And, we don’t want 4 year colleges & universities to go under as a result of a loss of great numbers of students going to CC for their first 2 years toward a 4 yr degree. (I know some already do this, but if it becomes the norm, it could be a problem.) However they can pull it off, a more educated public would be a good thing.

  2. What a commie-socialist, that Truman! Imagine where we’d be today if we’d implemented that idea in the 40s. Maybe the Chinese wouldn’t be eating our lunch.

  3. I think we need a great deal more detail on Obama’s plan.
    See an assessment by Janelle Ross at The Atlantic here.

    In addition to issues raised by Ross, we need to look at earnings and unemployment rates by educational attainment. (Latest BLS stats, which appear consistent with available US Census data, are here and here.) Taking a look at where the jobs are and projections for the future wouldn’t hurt. (More BLS data here.)

    Some of this data can be encouraging. And certainly more education is preferable to less education. And, of course, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to be leery of someone who thinks “making sure that every American has the security of quality, affordable health care” includes leaving tens of millions Americans without health insurance.

    When Obama talks about a pathway to the middle class…personally…my first response is, “What middle class?

    If we took about a third of what we spend every year on making the world safe for fossil fuel consumption and plutocracy in general, we could provide public education, including cost of living assistance, to anyone who wanted it.
    France does it.
    Germany does it. Even for foreigners.

    1. The Atlantic article makes some good points. This: “Tuition should not be a barrier to go to college. But this plan, at least as it stands, it does nothing about all the other issues, the childcare and bus fare, the work hours, the real issues people face as they try to go to school and, too often, have to start and stop.” is a very good point. I saw it first hand while taking classes at a CC. My classmate/lab partner started missing classes, then dropped the class due to life/work obligations. Some students are on their own financially and still have to find a way to pay for rent, utilities, cell phone, car, gas, food…which means work….that may conflict with classes and schoolwork. There needs to be more than tuition coverage if odds of success are to be improved.

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