Reactions to Obama’s Free Community College Plan Trickle In

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Last week, President Barack Obama announced a new initiative to offer free tuition for those planning to attend community college.  The plan has been described as both a “moon shot” that could universalize the first two years of college, and also as just the latest step in the President’s progressive agenda and something of a pipe dream.

Currently, the plan is an attempt to lessen the disparities found in education as a result of the growing socioeconomic inequality in the country.  Members of the Obama administration claim that offering 2 years of common college at no cost could help as many as 9 million students attend and graduate college with less debt.  The program would cost $60 billion dollars over 10 years, which includes both federal and state funding, making the concept more agreeable to some Republicans.

However, the plan does not account for the fact that many students who attend community college actually graduate or earn their degrees somewhere else, meaning that the system Obama is basing his plan on is already finding it difficult to produce strong student outcomes.

According to current federal data, only 20% of students who had enrolled in community college in 2009 had ended up completing their program within three years.  However, the percentage does not account for those students who take a break from their studies and resume them at another institution, causing many school officials to discount the number, reports Janell Ross for The Atlantic.

Other figures, though, are harder to dispute.  Only 15% of those who begin their education at a community college will go on to earn their bachelor’s degree within six years.  Researchers have also discovered that of students with similar test scores and grades, those who attend a four-year school are far more likely to earn a degree than those who choose to attend community college.

Not everyone feels this way, however.  Many stand in support of the proposal, including elected officials and educators in Connecticut, who say it could be a “game-changer” for students in the state.

“If Congress is able to pass this important proposal to increase access to higher education, we will implement it …” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said. “Increasing access to Connecticut’s community college programs will benefit all our citizens by attracting new employers and matching graduates with good jobs.”

Malloy continued to say that the program, which would reduce the cost of attending community college and make it possible for more residents to earn degrees, would in turn make the state more economically competitive, writes Kathleen Megan for The Hartford Courant.

To qualify for the program, students in the state would be required to attend school at least on a half-time basis, maintain a 2.5 grade point average, and continue to progress toward completing their program.