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The President's Community College Proposal Isn't Free

The Obama administration is once again pushing a multi-billion dollar proposal to offer ‘free’ community college to every American. In the weekly address, Vice President Biden said this was a “straightforward plan to … expand the pathway to the middle class.” Like most political gestures that offer something for nothing, this one is not all it’s cracked up to be.

  • There is nothing ‘free’ about the president’s community college proposal. The president’s budget reveals the program’s price tag would exceed $60 billion dollars over the next 10 years. Where would the money come from? Higher taxes – $1.8 trillion in higher taxes to be exact – including tax hikes on parents saving for their children’s education. That’s right: The president wants people go to college yet proposed a tax hike on college savings.

  • Helping Americans pursue higher education is a national priority. Each year, taxpayers invest more than $130 billion in numerous federal student aid, loan, and grant programs (not to mention roughly $15 billion annually on numerous job training programs). This significant taxpayer investment recognizes education is vital to the strength of the country and the economic well-being of working families.

  • Creating yet another federal program is not the answer to high college costs. In fact, it will make it even harder to meet our existing commitments to those who want to pursue a college degree. As Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline noted: “The president is proposing yet another multi-billion dollar federal program that will compete with existing programs for limited taxpayer dollars.”

This might explain why the president’s community college proposal has been panned by both education leaders and opinion leaders. The Washington Post described the plan as, “Ambitious, yes. Wise, no.” The Institute for College Access and Support said it was a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” The American Association of State Colleges and Universities said it “may well result in a rationing of available slots at community colleges.” And the Wall Street Journal opined that this “new entitlement” was part of a broader attempt to “keep the federal government in charge of American life from cradle to grave.”

There are better ways to help individuals pursue the dream of a college degree and learn new skills to succeed in today’s workforce, commonsense ideas House Republicans have long championed, such as:

  • Modernizing the federal job training system. Thanks to the leadership of House Republicans, last year President Obama signed legislation that streamlines a confusing maze of job training programs, provides greater accountability for taxpayers, and helps provide workers the skills they need to compete for in-demand jobs.

  • Expanding access to college savings plans. The president may have backed off his plan to tax 529 college plans, but that doesn’t mean Congress shouldn’t expand access to a popular savings tool that has helped make college more affordable. Bipartisan legislation passed by the House would do just that, and it’s time to send the bill to the president’s desk.

  • Keeping student loan interest rates low. When student loan interest rates were set to double – thanks to the budgetary schemes of congressional Democrats – House Republicans demanded a responsible solution that would prevent a rate spike and get Washington out of the business of setting student loan interest rates. Despite some last minute political shenanigans, a bill was signed into law that has provided millions of students and families lower interest rates and certainty.

  • Reforming the Higher Education Act to strengthen access to post-secondary education. America’s higher education system is too costly, bureaucratic, and outdated. Leaders on the Education and the Workforce Committee have outlined a number of key principles for improving higher education, including streamlining and simplifying student aid, and promoting innovation, access, and completion. Congress actually made bipartisan progress toward reaching these goals, and that work will continue in the months ahead.

Here is some free advice for the Obama administration: Use the next weekly address to discuss real solutions to make higher education more affordable – responsible solutions that might enjoy broad, bipartisan support.

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