It’s no secret that the cost of attending college has escalated in recent years. It’s a trend that is expected to continue well into the future. According to CBS Moneywatch, the cost of a four-year college degree has increased by 500 percent since 1985. This is compared with a 121 percent increase in the consumer price index over the same time frame.
Students who find that pursuing a four-year degree is simply unaffordable sometimes resort to attending a community college as a more cost-effective alternative. But in some instances, even a less expensive community college is beyond the reach of low-income families.
In January 2015, President Barack Obama outlined a plan that would allow students to attend community college for free. Under the proposal, students who attend classes on at least a half-time basis and maintain a 2.5 grade point average would be able to take advantage of the program.
In essence, if students are willing to put in the time and effort it takes to succeed in college, they would be rewarded with a two-year college degree at no cost. The federal government would pay 75 percent of the tab, with the states picking up the rest. The program requires approval by Congress in order to become law.
Benefits of the Obama Community College Plan
The most obvious benefit of the proposal is that a college education would be more accessible than ever before. According to White House officials, the number of students enrolled in community college would increase from its current level of seven million to around nine million. Thus, more students would have what the president called “pathways to the middle class.”
A better-educated workforce could also benefit the nation as a whole. Individuals with a two-year college degree typically earn about $10,700 more per year than those with only a high school diploma, according to Pacific Standard. In theory, there would be more workers with more disposable income to spend on consumer goods and other products and services. This extra spending could provide a welcome boost to the economy. Individuals who might otherwise be unemployed or underemployed would become positive contributors to society.
What About the Possible Drawbacks of Free Community College?
The president’s proposal is not without its critics. Cost is one of the biggest concerns. By White House estimates, the total expenditure would be about $60 billion over a 10-year period, which is money that some feel would be better used for other purposes.
Detractors also point to the relative lack of success of the community college system in general. Only about 35 percent of community college students actually earn a degree within six years of enrolling, compared to 57 percent in traditional four-year colleges. Community college graduation rates have also been steadily declining over the past 10 years.
At an average cost of only $3,800 a year, many individuals believe that a community college education is already within reach. Obtaining grants or scholarships could offset much, if not all, of this cost. It’s also worth noting that the proposal only encompasses two years of school. Students who wish to pursue an advanced degree after their community college education would have to obtaining funding themselves.
It’s unclear as to whether the concept of free community college will help millions of Americans improve their standing in life, or simply become another example of a well-intended government program that ultimately misses the mark.
To learn more about the free community college plan and how it could impact your future, contact a Vista College Admissions Representative today.
CC Photo by Marc Nozell