‘Free’ Community College Plan Just Got More Expensive. A Lot More Expensive.

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WASHINGTON, D.C., July 16, 2015 | comments
Since President Obama unveiled his plan to offer “free” community college, the American people have learned there is nothing free about it. News reports quickly revealed the plan was projected to cost taxpayers $60 billion. That is, until congressional Democrats turned the president’s $60 billion idea into a $90 billion legislative proposal. Citing a lead sponsor in the Senate, one news outlet reported:

Revised budget estimates on the cost of the bill amount to $90 billion over 10 years
, broken down into $80 billion for the community college component and $10 billion for the minority-serving institution component.

As Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) warned, this new expensive federal program will have unintended consequences:

The president is proposing yet another multi-billion dollar federal program that will compete with existing programs for limited taxpayer dollars … Unless the president has a responsible plan to meet our existing commitments, he shouldn’t be making new promises the American people can’t afford.

Opinion leaders have expressed similar concerns:

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

[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

When it comes to strengthening America’s higher education system, spending more taxpayer dollars on more programs and regulations is not the answer. There are better ways to help individuals pursue the dream of a college degree, commonsense ideas that will:

  • Empower students and families to make informed decisions by improving data transparency and enhancing financial literary services so individuals can better understand the higher education landscape and make choices based on easy-to-understand, relevant information.

  • Simplify and improve student aid by consolidating the current patchwork of federal programs and streamlining the application and eligibility process to help more students understand how to pay for their education in a fiscally responsible way.

  • Promote innovation, access, and completion by supporting opportunities that enable individuals to earn a degree or certificate faster, with less cost, and without additional disruption to their daily lives.

  • Ensure strong accountability and a limited federal role by reducing federal red tape and providing accreditors and institutions the flexibility they need to effectively deliver a high quality education.

It’s time for Washington politicians to stop peddling a “free” plan that has only grown more expensive for taxpayers and start promoting responsible reforms that will improve higher education for students and families.

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