By Meredith Schellin, Executive Editor
Free college. Sounds like everything we’ve hoped and wished for, but alas even the promise of free higher education has its very apparent downfalls. During his State of the Union address President Obama proposed a plan that offered two years of free community college to U.S students in order to boost graduation rates and lift more people into the middle class.
While free college sounds like a dream come true, this idea is not as simple as it may appear. According to Time.com, the White House has estimated that this program will cost approximately $6 billion a year. Add that to our $18 trillion national debt. It was made clear that this $6 billion is to be used strictly to cover students’ tuition, not as a means to increase the revenue of colleges. Additionally according to Time.com, states will be required to pay for one-quarter of this tuition subsidy.
So we know this plan is going to be expensive. That should not surprise anyone, but what about the additional ramifications of making two years of college free?
This plan proposes that students who attend a community college will have the first two years paid for. This assumes that a student could at least earn his or her associates degree with in that time. According to Time.com of all of the students who enrolled in public community college for the first time in the fall only one-quarter earned any kind of certificate or associate’s degree within six years. Another 12 percent earned a bachelor’s degree within that six-year period.
These statistics show us that students are not always finishing their associate’s degree in two years and definitely not finishing their bachelor’s degree in two years.
This requires students to spend money out of pocket or acquire some sort of grant, loan or scholarship to finish out their collegiate experience. If students have to pay for additional years of school this runs the risk that they will just leave their degree unfinished after the first two years because they are unable to pay for the rest which places us not with a higher graduation rate like the president is promising, but rather in a similar situation we are facing now—just $6 billion a year further in debt.
Regardless of if they end up completing their degree or not, free college is going to attract students to community colleges across the country. This is going to present an additional set of problems. Will community colleges be large enough to accommodate the increase in enrollment they will get with free tuition? The proposal in its current state is clear that the money given to institutions is only to be used as a means of covering students’ tuitions. This means that colleges will not be able to use this government funding to build additional buildings or housing, nor will they be able to use it to hire additional staff. Because of this will community colleges be able to accommodate the needs of their influx of students? If classrooms become overcrowded and professors are stretched too thin, it seems hard to believe that students will actually be receiving a quality education worthy of a degree.
Not only do you run the risk of having students only complete two years of school, colleges becoming over crowded and additional debt, but the question can be raised will students have the same type of desire to learn if their higher education is paid for by the government, not themselves, parents or scholarships. I know that I have worked harder throughout my collegiate career because I understand the sacrifices my parents have made to pay for my college experience and I have had scholarships I have been obligated to maintain. If college is expected to be free, will there be the same type of work ethic students have had in the past because they have had to work to pay for their education?
While at first glance it may appear that providing two years of free education to students attending a community college will provide a greater chance of people actually attending college and a higher graduation rate, the President’s proposal does not account for the problems that will stem from this new plan both economically and socially.