Compiled by the Retriever Weekly Senior Staff
President Obama’s State of the Union Address proposed a plan for first two years of community college to be free, but it may not pan out.
President Obama’s State of the Union Address was well-received primarily as a result of the proposition of free community college for Americans “willing to work for it.” The proposal comes with roughly a $60 billion cost over the next 10 years, but it could result in better educated middle and lower classes.
Obama’s idea certainly has precedent. He brought attention to the establishment of public high schools across the nation — when the nation needed better-educated workers, legislation to create nationwide high schools followed suit.
Industry in the U.S. has changed, and to catch up to the information industry that is rapidly developing, we need more workers with post-secondary educations. This plan may seem woefully optimistic, but provision of this kind of education is needed if the U.S. is to keep up with evolving businesses.
The President also accounted for where the funding will come from, and proposed that, by raising taxes on the wealthy largely through an increase of 20 to 28 percent in the capital in the capital gains tax, those funds can be allocated to educating the middle and lower class citizenry that cannot afford college.
Obama’s initiative could decrease unemployment rates and help the stigma that works against community colleges. Community colleges prepare students to be part of the workforce, and it’s something that is desperately needed.
It wouldn’t be an entirely free ride for anyone, though. Free tuition would be contingent on recipients keeping good grades — maintaining at least a 2.5 GPA — and working towards a degree or certificate, ensuring that the money is being put to use and not going to waste. There are also costs of living to be considered as well, but it would still be a huge improvement.
All of this sounds great in concept, but there are questions about whether or not it will pass through Congress in the coming weeks. This is especially difficult in a Republican-controlled Congress that may not warmly receive the high costs of the plan.
Some feel that President Obama realizes he is on his way out. He admitted in this year’s State of the Union that he has “no more elections to win,” and is thus seen by some to be trying to establish his legacy instead of truly put his plans into action.
Regardless of whether or not his plan comes to fruition, Obama’s speech could influence states to take the initiative on their own. It’s not irregular for an elected official to make lofty promises; for example, in 2013 Obama wanted to develop early childhood education, but though it never resulted in any real federal legislative changes, it did influence some states to promote this on their own.
The hope, then, is that even if Obama is unable to pass his plan through Congress and make a nationwide effort to change the financing of community college, he may be able to influence states to take the task on themselves — some might create programs similar to a Tennessee program called Tennessee Promise, which pays for the tuition in community colleges already.
President Obama’s free community college plan is incredibly optimistic, and the reality is that it may not pan out. What’s more important though is the nationwide message that college educations are valuable, and that as a whole, the U.S. needs to better prioritize college learning for it to keep up with the growing information industry.