OPINION: Free community college is worth a discussion


Ray Paoletta is a junior political science major. Contact him at [email protected]

Ray Paoletta

President Barack Obama introduced an effort on Friday to give Americans of all ages free community college.

The first thing that will come to most people’s minds is that free community college is another step to creating a socialist America. However, citizens really should give thought to free community college before rushing to such a harsh judgment.

A USA Today article reported that by 2017 there will be an estimated 2.5 million new middle-skill, blue-collar jobs that pay well. These jobs most often do not require a lengthy college education, usually requiring only an associate’s degree or other certificates and trainings. These blue-collar jobs require skills that people can learn at two-year community colleges.

Giving people the means to attend community college so that they can become marketable in the job market would strengthen the economy and be a hand up to those who do not have the skills to work a job outside the fast food industry.

Most criticism of President Obama’s plan stems from a lack of details. What we know is that the federal government would pay for 75 percent of community college tuition, and the states would pay for 25 percent of the tuition. However, states are not mandated to enter into the program. Furthermore, students who take advantage of the plan must maintain a 2.5 GPA and must enroll at least half time. The real question comes down to cost. How much will this cost and is it worth it?

This is where — and it might be a lot to ask for — a discussion between political parties needs to happen. Congress must find a way to control the costs of this program, which will likely be high. They should put in place a method to audit the program to make sure the costs do not rise and become out of hand. Congress also should add checkpoints to reevaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of the program every so many years.

There also should be a threshold for the program so that the wealthy and those from wealthy families who do not need this aid do not qualify for it. In addition to cost, Congress should make sure that the states are given the ability to run this program. Different states may have ideas that work in different ways.

If the free community college plan goes as planned, it will lead to other factors that will reduce government spending and increase revenues to offset the costs. If the poor who are unable to find well-paying jobs and were never afforded the luxury of an education are able to further their education and find a higher-paying job, this program has the potential to help get those people off taxpayer-funded social programs. Furthermore, it is common sense that the higher the wages, the higher the tax revenue.

President Obama’s plan might lack details, but the bottom line issue of free community college should at least be given a discussion. Just because the president’s proposal is not perfect does not mean that Congress cannot work together to put together a bill that pleases all political parties and more importantly strengthens the economy.

Look at it as a job training issue, not a free schooling issue. Making community college more affordable and desirable can lead to a stronger America with a competitive edge over the rest of the world.

Contact Ray Paoletta at [email protected].