Free community college?


President Barack Obama speaks at Anschutz Sports Pavillion at the University of Kansas on Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015 in Lawrence, Kan. Obama was promoting his middle class economic agenda he outlined in his State of the State speech earlier this week. 

Kate Schwanke

 President Barack Obama’s ambitious proposal to lower community college costs to zero could negatively affect Kent.

Obama announced his tentative plan at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tenn. on Friday, Jan. 9. Although the plan is still in its early stages, the White House has estimated the program to cost approximately $60 billion throughout a 10-year period. The program could also benefit upwards of nine million students if all states participate.

Free tuition will be given to students who maintain above a 2.5 GPA and attend classes at least part time, according to the White House. The federal government will fund 75 percent of the plan while state governments will handle the other 25 percent.

Greg Jarvie, vice president for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs, said the program would be a great opportunity for future students, but it could have its setbacks on not only the nation but Kent State as well.

“There’s good and bad,” Jarvie said. “If it’s an opportunity for more folks to go to college, that’s a great thing, but then you have to look at all these other four year institutions-so what does that mean for Kent State?”

As of fall 2014, Kent State students pay up to $28,000 for tuition and room and board. If community colleges are offering free tuition, it could potentially lower Kent State’s enrollment.

“Kent is set up on a model of about $28,000, so if you start chipping away at that and you lose 20 or 30 percent of that, it is going to immediately be an issue,” Jarvie said.

With the potential for that great of a loss, Jarvie said Kent would have to make drastic cuts to faculty and staff. Residence halls would also be underused if enrollment drops.

However, David Garcia, associate vice president for Enrollment Management, said he feels differently towards the proposal. He still believes it is a great idea for future students, but will have minimal affect on Kent State.

“I still truly believe that a number of students are looking for that residential campus experience and want to start their program at a four year college and live on campus to really enjoy the full experience of what college is all about,” Garcia said.

Garcia said he also believes that a two year community college may benefit those students who are not ready for a four year college experience. They would also come out with little-to-no student debt if the plan were to go into effect.

Todd Diacon, provost and senior vice President for Academic Affairs, believes the plan would actually benefit Kent State’s regional campuses because they offer associate degrees.

“I would certainly hope that the program would cover our students seeking associates degrees on our regional campuses,” he said.

Obama is preparing to test his proposal in Tennessee where an estimated 16,000 students at 13 different community colleges around the state will receive tuition assistance.

Contact Kate Schwanke at [email protected].