Obama's community college plan is the wrong way to fix higher education

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As the Texan recently covered, President Barack Obama has proposed a plan for free tuition at community colleges. But, as predicted, it didn’t go over well with his critics, who criticized the plan as excessive government intrusion into local affairs. 

The plan would cost $6 billion per year and provide tuition, but not other costs associated with attendance, for community college students looking to transfer to a four-year university or those who are on track to complete an associate’s degree. However, it doesn’t appear to take into account other financial factors that could potentially stop Americans from getting degrees or the present state of some community colleges. Contrary to the belief of this paper’s editorial board, which came out in support of the plan, a free associate’s degree may not be the solution to America’s education issue.  

My biggest concern is whether community college classes adhere to the same standards as four-year universities. It’s no secret that even the best of us opt for summer community college classes not only to get ahead, but to take an easier, less intensive route. With that in mind, does it really make sense to give people a free education if it won’t match the quality of a four-year degree? It just seems to create yet another problem for students who may not be able to afford a potentially better education, limiting them to the dregs at the bottom of the barrel. As the editorial board stated, Americans may get thousands of dollars off their debt with reduced load on faculty and staff, but will the instructors, curriculum and quality of what’s covered be the same?  

While not everyone is a slacker student, we don’t want college to become high school 2.0 — a major talking point of the Obama administration that conveniently leaves out the layabouts attending just to bide their time. Besides, students who attend four-year universities are far more likely to graduate on time and in general than those who begin at a community college. Only 20 percent of community college students actually end up transferring to get a bachelor’s. If that number stays the same, the two years of instruction would go toward a degree that wouldn’t get people much farther than a free high school diploma. Before offering a program for free, the federal government should first examine the workings of current community colleges that students already pay to attend. 

Those who can’t even afford community college don’t simply need help in their first two years. Post-associate’s degree, the full cost to attend a four-year university, including fees like books, housing and food, still acts as a barrier to a bachelor’s degree. The few thousand dollars off are nothing compared to the total debt they would still graduate with. As a master’s degree is becoming ever more necessary to enter the job market, underprivileged people will still be held even further back for lack of funding. Not to mention, the workforce isn’t the most stable, with many in fear of the number of guaranteed careers available to college graduates.  

Rather than making the basic requirements free, the ridiculous cost of higher education overall should be re-examined. Even at our school, on average, students incur almost $20,000 in debt even if they graduate on time, adding an additional $6,000 for every year beyond that. 

This plan is designed to give everyone equal opportunity, an idea great in theory but often not implemented correctly. The government cannot fill the achievement gap with empty rhetoric. It can inspire the country, make citizens think about the way the system works, but it won’t level the playing field as they attempt to use it for. By looking at the issue in a more pragmatic way, they would see that much more than part of 2 years’ expenses is needed to give Americans a boost. This proposal is a start, but if implemented won’t make as huge of a change as it seems. The real issue lies in affordability of education, without compromising quality or the overall experience and skills that accompany attending a 4-year university.

Griffin is a journalism freshman from Houston. Follow Griffin on Twitter @JazmynAlynn.