Is the idea of free community college catching on?

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“Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities, because in each of us there is a private hope and dream which, fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength for our nation.”

– John F. Kennedy


As political candidates continue to gear up for the 2016 primary elections, one of the topics frequently discussed and on the minds of students is making higher education significantly cheaper or ultimately cost free.

President Obama had high hopes for making that dream a reality but with only a little more than a year left in his presidency, the tuition debacle might have to be a feat for the next president to overcome. Huffington Post reported in July that Obama did in fact begin promoting a $60 billion initiative toward making community colleges free nationwide but there’s been no vote by members of Congress.

With the national student debt toppling $1.2 trillion, the problem will only grow larger if not addressed. On average, that leaves 40 million students with about $29,000 each in debt once they’ve graduated.

“The cost of higher education is too high for too many Americans. Too many folks are priced out of a piece of the middle-class dream,” Vice President Joe Biden said in a White House press release on April 11.

Although the idea behind getting higher education is to get a better job, students won’t even notice the benefits if they are paying off thousands of dollars in the first few, and for some, many years after completing their degree.

Even though the costs of two-year colleges is minimal compared to a four-year university, one of the most common reasons people attend community colleges is to transfer and obtain a bachelor’s or higher degree.

Since Biden’s remarks in the aforementioned White House press release about making community college tuition free, not much has been reported since.

“Here’s what we propose: Close the loopholes for the wealthiest investors and levy a .07 percent fee on the biggest banks to discourage the kind of risky behavior that crashed our economy just a few years ago,” Biden said.

While trying to make it a federal issue, some disagree and think it should be based on by-state decisions. In February 2014, Tennessee decided to take it into their own hands and became the first state to offer free tuition at community colleges with the Tennessee Promise. Although they are the closest to staying true to this claim, the cost isn’t completely free.

In an interview between Republic 3.0 and Mike Krause, the executive director of the Tennessee Promise, he did make it clear that the scholarship would supplement the aid students are already receiving, essentially making it a “last-dollar plan.” The student will also complete eight hours of community service per semester and must maintain a cumulative GPA of 2.0. Even though students may still have to pay out-of-pocket costs, it would still reduce the overall tuition for a number of them.

A more recent case in trying to cheapen the cost of community college tuition is the Oregon Promise established this past July. The legislation signed by Oregon Governor Kate Brown says that $10 million will be set aside for the first year and students must enroll within six months of graduating high school and maintain a GPA of 2.5, slightly higher than the Tennessee promise.

No matter the state’s approach, the concern of the cost for higher education has been spreading like wild fire. With candidates for the 2016 election already vying for voters, higher education should be on the top of their list of policies to tackle.



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