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President’s ‘Free’ Higher Education Plan ‘Doesn’t Make the Grade’

The president is pushing a new, multi-billion proposal to provide ‘free’ community college to every American. Like most political gestures that promise something for nothing, this one is too good to be true. As House Committee on Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-MN) remarked:

Encouraging more individuals to pursue training or earn a college degree is a national priority and community colleges play a vital role in that effort. But make no mistake, the president is proposing yet another multi-billion dollar federal program that will compete with existing programs for limited taxpayer dollars.

Education stakeholders and opinion leaders seem to agree that the president’s plan is not all it’s cracked up to be:

Ambitious, yes. Wise, no … Some initiatives sound nice but fail to carefully target precious national wealth to those most in need. Mr. Obama’s is one of those ideas. … in an era of constrained resources, there are better ways of improving access to higher education than establishing a new middle-class entitlement. –
Washington Post, Editorial, President Obama’s community college proposal doesn’t make the grade

The new entitlement is best understood as an extension of the Administration’s ideological project to add higher education to the list of entitlements that keep the federal government in charge of American life from cradle to grave ... The ObamaCollege plan is everything we’ve come to expect from this White House.Wall Street Journal, Editorial, The ObamaCollege Plan

“The federal government can tell people to do things, but it can’t tell them to do it well,” [said, Andrew Kelly, director of the Center for Higher Education Research at AEI] “it actually raises much more fundamental questions about what the federal government is capable of doing in this area, what they’re capable of doing well and the efficacy of top-down federal control over accountability and institutional performance.”CQ Roll Call, GOP, Education Advocates Question Free College Plan

Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Ala., said the proposal is not a "legitimate" way to close the skills gap. Byrne, who serves on the House education committee and was also previously chancellor of Alabama's community college system, took issue with the fact that plans for funding Obama's proposal remain unclear. White House officials said Friday the estimated cost of the program is $60 billion over 10 years.U.S. News, Critics Pan Obama's Community College Plan

White House officials didn't have a lot of details last week about President Obama's proposal to offer free tuition to community colleges. They didn't know how much it would cost. They don't know where the money would come from. They don't know if Congress is interested. – National Journal, Free Community College Proposal Leaves Many Questions

[Kay McClenney, former director of Center for Community College Student Engagement said] the White House proposal would create “public subsidies for people who don’t need them in the face of excruciating need for students who do.” Inside Higher Ed, The Thought That Counts 

The Institute for College Access and Support, a nonprofit that advocates for increased access to higher education, posted a blog calling free community college tuition a "wolf in sheep's clothing" and not a panacea. "Making tuition free for all students regardless of their income is a missed opportunity to focus resources on the students who need aid the most.” Education Week, Some Higher Education Advocates Wary of President's Free Community College Plan

A significant portion of persons going to community colleges come from at least moderately affluent families, and subsidizing their education more than presently is a waste of resources. Truly low income students, for whom financial barriers to college access are real, already receive Pell Grants that typically cover virtually all of community college tuition.Forbes, Op-Ed, CCAP, Six Reasons Why Obama's Free Community College Is a Poor Investment

Educators disagree on whether this is the best use of tax dollars. That's in part because some of the students who benefit could afford to pay for tuition on their own and the neediest of students might not get all the aid they need. – Associated Press, Q&A: Obama's community college plan calls for free tuition for students pursuing degrees

The administration deserves anything but a passing grade for this unprecedented proposal. Here is a better idea for the Obama administration to consider: Improve existing policies and programs so more Americans can pursue the dream of earning a postsecondary degree. As Chairman Kline noted, “the president should work with Congress in crafting a comprehensive, bipartisan plan that strengthens access to higher education for all Americans. That is the challenge we face and it’s time the president got serious about it.”

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