Saying Americans need more knowledge and skills to meet the demands of a growing global economy without piling up decades of debt, President Barack Obama has proposed bringing the cost of two years of community college “down to zero.”
A majority of respondents to this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll are not sold on the idea, though. Sixty-two percent say they do not favor Obama’s proposal, called America’s College Promise.
The plan is modeled after a Tennessee program that Republican Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law last year. Eligible students would be those who attend community college at least half-time, maintain a 2.5 GPA average, and make steady progress toward completing a degree or certificate program.
Participating schools would need to meet certain requirements such as offering academic programs whose credits fully transfer to local public four-year colleges and universities or occupational training programs with high graduation rates that lead to degrees and certificates in demand among employers.
The White House estimates that 9 million students could benefit if all states participate, and save an average of $3,800 in tuition a year if they attend full-time.
The estimated federal cost of the program over 10 years is $60 billion; participating states would need to pick up 25 percent of the total cost, or $20 billion. The federal money would come from general tax revenues.
The president and supporters of his plan such as Monroe Community College president Anne Kress say removing financial barriers will increase economic opportunity for the disadvantaged and that two-year schools are well-positioned to partner with employers to meet needs within their communities.
In contrast, critics say financial assistance for students attending community colleges—such as Pell grants—already exists and goes only to students who are truly needy. They also say such a program is better left to the states.
Roughly 875 readers participated in this week’s poll, conducted Feb. 23 and 24.
Do you favor or oppose President Obama’s proposal to make two years of community college free for qualifying students?
For information on how the Snap Polls are conducted, click here.
Free health care, free houses, no income tax, free food, free college. Why not free cars and free gas? What else can we give out and stick the middle class the bill for? Since when has giving someone everything been a good practice? I fail to see any incentive to work for any of the above entitlements. What lessons are being learned here? How is one to gain any sense of pride by getting all of this free stuff? And what makes the president think that the middle class is going to be happy paying for all of this? Our taxes are going to pay for the federal component and our taxes are going to pay for the state component. If the schools know that the state and federal government is going to pick up the tab, then I anticipate their costs to mysteriously escalate for unaccountable reasons. This seems like a really bad idea.
I wish people had a better understanding of what free means. Free is paid for by someone else. In the case of the government, it means the taxpayers. People value what is rare or hard to attain. Giving things away devalues them. Education has never been about who can afford it. Education is about who values it enough to pursue it. Stop the entitlements and let people earn it.
I used a program like this after my time in the Air Force and it was the perfect jump start.
—Ken Pamatat, Creative Images Photography
Nothing is free. This is just another redistribution of wealth and an attempt to buy votes for the Democrats, who won’t be happy until everyone (except themselves) is poor and dependent on the government. Hasn’t our wonderful 50-year experiment with the federal Department of Education proven that the government has and will continue to mess up our education system? So much for outcome-based programs—or maybe this is what they wanted all along?
—Keith B. Robinson, Diamond Packaging
The concept has merit. The proposed administrator is totally inept.
—Jim Weisbeck, Bloomfield
I would settle for a cap on tuition increases. Tuition at colleges and universities has been increasing at a rate that far outpaces cost-of-living increases. An RIT/UR/Syracuse bachelor’s degree (including room and board) will now cost over $200,000, which effectively leaves students with a mortgage upon graduation. Public universities are not much better; a SUNY Brockport four-year degree will now cost you $85,000. What we are now seeing is the housing bubble for education.
College cost is way out of control. I predict the next financial crisis will be college loan debt. Many students are graduating from universities with loans that exceed many home mortgages. The cost of college is unsustainable. With that said, I oppose President Obama’s plan for free two-year community college. I believe you need to have some skin in the game. We place greater value on the things we work and pay for, rather than what is given to us.
—Tony Barbagallo, Antonino Barbagallo Photography Inc.
We keep wanting to give out and get everything for “free.” People either forget or choose to ignore the fact nothing is free. Someone has to pay for it. The national debt continues to pile up and these programs just add to the debt. Eighty billion dollars is a lot of money for an already strapped United States. If you want socialism or communism, then give it to them for free.
—Steve Neelin, CEO, Quality Recruiting
For many college-age students, college may not be the answer. Skilled trade positions are always in need, and if you pursue the trade you could be making the same amount or more as a student with a bachelor’s degree and not spending the high tuition.
It is a fantastic idea. But the Republicans and Chamber will scream bloody murder. Imagine if we educated everyone and they could be a productive citizen. No more public assistance, a deep cut in crime, stable families—all great goals. This is what democracy is all about.
—Eve Elzenga, Eve Elzenga Design
Hey, I have an idea—let’s print more money to pay for it (sarcasm).
Let’s just save a lot of time and give everyone a Ph.D., a $25 minimum wage, a Cadillac in their garage and … a garage.
Students and parents will not value something that’s free. Should be tied to grades; allowing students to earn future class tuition. Could start in high school. It should be about encouraging success and achievement.
Consider an alternative where in exchange for two years of “free” community college education, the recipient’s federal income tax rate is increased by one point until they reach age 65. By the time people become eligible for college, the public has already invested $200,000 (on average) in their “free” education.
—Dorver Kendig, Webster
There is no reason for the federal government to get involved in community colleges. Right now, a student of little means can attend and graduate from community college free of charge based on the various grant programs available through the U.S. and New York State governments. Student loans are also available for middle class families. Community college tuitions are low compared to other options due to taxpayer support. We don’t need more federal intrusion. We have all seen the negative impact federal intrusion has had on K through 12 education with the increased focus on teaching to the test to get the federal dollars and the mess they created with healthcare.gov. The proposal will only create another massive expensive bureaucracy and will take control away from the states—when the states are in the best position to determine what their residents want and need. Hands off higher education!
We don’t need and cannot afford more handouts. Community college is very inexpensive, and any student could easily earn $3,800 to cover his/her tuition by working fewer than 10 hours per week. Financial aid is already available for needy students.
—Karen Zilora, Creative Scanning Solutions Inc.
As a member of a community, I pay school taxes to educate the children that I do not have, and never will have. The tax rate is so high that it can make home ownership impossible. The last thing we need in this challenging economy is to have the federal government digging further into the pockets of the employed who will never see any benefits from the program. Maybe instead of a child tax credit, it should be a tax on children to help pay for the additional draw on limited resources.
Sounds good; feels good. But what is the goal of the program? Like many proposals in today’s “going nowhere” political environment, this one is more designed to burnish Obama’s reputation with working-class families than it is to be an effective program that will lift incomes or improve our economic outcomes. And, of course, there is the question of how to pay for it. No one seems to care about that.
—John Calia, Vistage International
So where is the money coming from for this program? When is the deficit too high? Isn’t $18 trillion in debt bad enough already? Are we borrowing from China to finance this additional debt or are the community college professors working for free? I’m sick of these push polls that present lots of “advantages” and avoid naming the substantial disadvantages.
If there is money available for this initiative, I’d much rather see it used to fund universal pre-K. If we can give children a leg up in their formative years we will get more kids to graduate high school and they will be able to afford paying for any sort of college or trade school by themselves.
“Free community college” to be paid for by whom? This president loves to spend other people’s money. We have $10 trillion in new Obama administration debt in his six years as president. Campaigner Obama said President Bush’s $7 trillion in debt in his eight years was “obscene.” Just another bad idea from a really bad president.
—George Thomas, Ogden
Tax and spend. Tax and spend. Who’s going to pay for this? You and I. You and I. When are you going to get your hand out of my pocket? The costs of college have already skyrocketed, greatly outstripping inflation, because of all the state and federal funds lavished on them. The only good thing is that with our Republican House and Senate, this community college boondoggle is a non-starter.
—Clifford Jacobson M.D.
It sounds good, but how are we going to pay for it? This comes on the heels of the Obamacare disaster, which has taken root and according to the Supreme Court, is a tax. Thus, Obamacare by itself is one of the largest tax increases in history. Besides being the most lawless president of my lifetime, Obama and his Congressional allies are also the most fiscally irresponsible. Under his watch, our national debt has increased by approximately $8 trillion and is increasing second by second. In summary, his proposal for free tuition to community colleges is out of the question.
—John Rynne, president, Rynne, Murphy and Associates Inc.
Absolutely; this is a no-brainer and addresses a double-edged problem. On the one side, we need the educated/skilled workforce in many areas. On the other side, it will lift people out of poverty who truly could not afford the tuition otherwise while at the same time removing the excuse for people across ethnic backgrounds that their personal situation prevents them from getting ahead. Leaving it up to the states is a tired, worn out, typical argument used by those who don’t want to dip into their wallet. This is not an issue that only affects certain states; it is national problem.
—Jeff Robinson, Serve-1st MedSearch
I hate this idea.
Education is no doubt important. However, the funding mechanism for this plan seems just another step closer to Communism. Let’s just make everything "free" so there’s absolutely no incentive to "earn" anything.
Eligible students? Maintain a 2.5 GPA? Once the program is in place, guidelines will change, rules rewritten so that every student gets the freebies. After all, that’s what’s fair. Right, Barack?
— Al Kempf, Fairport
We are losing ground in educated population per capitas in the world. Guaranteeing an associate’s degree for all is more critical to our future than bailing out banks and will reap greater rewards.
First, before "disadvantaged" youth can attend college, they must finish high school, so let’s concentrate more on getting them through the public high schools that are already built, staffed and "paid" for. Second, by subsidizing "community" college students, are those who attend four-year colleges and universities excluded? Third, where in the U.S. Constitution does it say it’s the federal government’s responsibility to oversee the education of our children? This is yet another example of federal government over-reach into micromanaging our lives.
—Tom Shea, Thomas P. Shea Agency Inc.
First of all, we are over $17 trillion dollars in debt and should not even be considering new entitlements. Where has our sense of reality gone? Second, community college is affordable for those who are willing to work while in school without assistance from taxpayers. Finally—and most importantly—this question is built upon the false premise of “free.” There is no such thing as “free.” If the poll question was worded, “Do you support Obama’s plan to have taxpayers foot the bill for community college?” the support would go way down. Better yet, if it was worded, “Do you personally want to pay for other people to go to community college?” the support would plummet to less than 1 percent. I know the Fed is digitizing and printing money at a frenzied pace, but that doesn’t change the reality that nothing is "free." The government has no money to give away that didn’t first come from a taxpayer. And least we purport that the tax revenue taken from wealthy, greedy corporations doesn’t hurt anyone, please don’t forget that companies big and small have no choice but to pass the cost of taxation on to you the consumer—poor, middle- or upper-class alike; we all pay for it. With government entitlements come waste, special interests, abuse and unintended consequences. A young person paying for their own schooling is naturally incentivized to be engaged in their learning, to work hard, and to experience a return on their investment. A young person receiving schooling paid for by someone else is less likely to appreciate, value and respect that investment. Who values what is paid for by someone else more than something that is earned through hard work and self-determination? We all like the idea of something for free, and we like the idea of helping others. But this entitlement is not "free." And ultimately it is not helpful for others to receive that which they could otherwise earn. Earning has intrinsic value. Receiving does not.
I think there should be no age limit for the students. If people want to retrain for a different career they should have the right to go for free if younger students have this right. I will have to work until age 70 to receive my full Social Security payment. I might need to retrain myself. Then the government should go after the fraudulent lending practices by American Education Services and the financial aid offices that blindly shuffle the students and parents into these fraudulent companies racking up mounds of debt, compromising their future.
I agree with David Brooks of the New York Times, who pointed out that a very high percentage of community college students drop out without finishing for various reasons. He proposes that instead of offering free college, we designate those funds to advise and counsel students to encourage and perhaps enable them to complete their studies.
—Faye Casey, retired
I share the view of the critics that such a program should be left to the discretion of the states. To make it a national program will almost guarantee it will not be tied to local needs such as job openings, internships, apprenticeships, etc. Secondly, how is the Fed going to define qualifying? Sounds like just another broad-based subsidy program for the poor.
—Hal Gaffin, Fairport
To value anything, one must earn or pay for such.
If students have to pay something for their education, they will value it more. If the government pays for it, they will not value it as much. I would like to see tuitions kept lower for low-income and disadvantaged students, but not free.
—Frances Reese, Reese Environmental Consulting
This is starting to get ridiculous. Is this the Rochester Business Journal or the Rochester Socialist Journal? More regulation! More free handouts! They steal from you! You’re entitled! The private sector is evil only the benevolent, all knowing central planners in Washington and Albany are looking out for your interest.
—Devon Michaels, Chili
2/27/15 (c) 2015 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.