What ‘Free Community College’ Means — And What It Could Cost

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The promise of free community college. What it might mean for our economy and our fraying social contract.

Vice President Joe Biden speaks at Pellissippi State Community College Friday, Jan. 9, 2015, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP)
Vice President Joe Biden speaks at Pellissippi State Community College Friday, Jan. 9, 2015, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP)

Free community college is the new cry of the Obama administration.  “Two years of college…as free and universal as high school is today,” says the President.  Sounds great.  Is it?  Would it be?  The president says his proposal would open the way, level the playing field, prepare young Americans for the jobs of the future without crushing debt.  But there are critics a plenty who say this is not the way.  That community colleges aren’t up to the task.  That there are better ways to spend $60 billion over the next ten years.  This hour On Point:  the call for free community college.
-- Tom Ashbrook


Joshua Wyner, founder and executive director of the Aspen Institute's College Excellence Program. (@joshwyner)

Lindsey Burke, education fellow at the Heritage Foundation. (@lindseymburke)

Thomas Bailey, professor of economics and education at the Teacher's College at Columbia University, where he is also director of the Community College Research Center. (@baileyccrc)

From Tom’s Reading List

The Tennessean: Tennessee Promise inspires Obama's free community college plan — "During a conference call with reporters Thursday, administration officials said the proposal was based on the 'fantastic results' of Tennessee Promise, which began its rollout here in 2014. Gov. Bill Haslam has received national praise for the program, which will fund community college tuition for eligible seniors who graduate from high school in Tennessee. The first class of Tennessee Promise students will start attending community colleges without tuition this fall. Those costs will be covered by federal aid and state lottery dollars."

National Review: A Community-College Plan Doomed to Fail -- " the main problem at community colleges is not cost, or work disincentives, but the appallingly low rates at which their students finish with a useful credential. President Obama’s plan is not going to fix this.The plan, like decades of federal policy for elementary and secondary schools, proposes to link funding to a push for accountability and best practices at community colleges. Yet we expect this to work as well as it has in the past: It’s no better an idea to try to run Bunker Hill Community College from Washington than it was to try to run Peoria High the same way."

WBUR's Cognoscenti: To Rebuild The Middle Class, Don’t Stop With Free Community College -- "By proposing that all Americans be able to access two years of free college, the president in essence wants to move the minimum baseline of education up from 13 to 15 years. As he noted, since seven out of 10 jobs in the near future will require some level of higher learning, a K-12 education is no longer sufficient to make it in the modern economy. Nonetheless, helping people gain an economic toehold isn’t the same as helping them secure a place in the middle class. A stable existence in the 21st century requires a much greater investment in learning."

This program aired on January 28, 2015.


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