In the 2015 State of the Union Address on Jan. 20, President Barack Obama stated “I am sending this Congress a bold new plan to lower the cost of community college – to zero.”
“Whoever you are, this plan is your chance to graduate ready for the new economy, without a load of debt. Understand, you’ve got to earn it – you’ve got to keep your grades up and graduate on time,” continued Obama.
Obama’s goal as stated in the address is to work with Congress to make sure Americans with current student loans can reduce their monthly payments.
“A college degree is the surest ticket to the middle class,” Obama said Friday. “It ensures you are always employable.”
In his 2015 budget proposal, President Obama made requests for education-related tax reforms, an expansion of the prior Pay As you Earn student loan repayment program, reported U.S. News’ Allie Bidwell.
“Obama did, however, add a requirement that would target the program to lower-income students, barring students with a family income of more than $200,000 from participating,” Bidwell said.
In January, Gov. Kitzhaber visited the OSU-Cascades campus and spoke with The Bulletin about Obama’s proposition.
“During the question-and-answer session, Kitzhaber was asked if he supported President Obama’s plan to make community college free. The governor said he did,” reported The Bulletin, “but noted, ‘the depressing part is that the U.S. Congress has to sign up for it.’ He did say his proposed biennial budget includes money to freeze higher education tuition hikes.”
Last March, Kitzhaber, Chair of the Oregon Education Investment Board, signed the “Oregon Promise” bill (Oregon Senate Bill 1524), which directed the Higher Education Coordinating Commission to conduct a study on the feasibility of offering free community college to all qualifying Oregonians.
A 2014 report by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems found that it would cost $164,171,103 to fund free community college education for Oregon’s 74,859 current and projected community college students.
The HECC, however, found that it would be more cost effective to offer grants through the current Oregon Opportunity Grant program, which currently provides grants to college and university students in need.
However, on the Oregon mid-term election ballot this past November, Measure 86, the Oregon Opportunity Initiative, which would have provided nearly $100 million for the grant program, failed 58 percent to 42 percent.
“Only 2 of 10 eligible students that apply today receive an Oregon opporunity grant, and it is worth just $2,000 a year,” according to the Oregon.gov Treasury website,
James Sinks, Communications Director of the Oregon Community College Association believes that funding will be a “key” part of the ongoing conversation.
“Colleges are now starting to rebuild after seven years of cutbacks: Oregon has fallen to 47 in a state-by-state comparison of higher education public investment,” Sinks said. “College officials will be watching to be certain that colleges are not being asked to simply waive tuition for thousands of new students.”
At noon on Feb. 12, the Oregon Student Association and some of Oregon’s 17 community colleges will hold a rally in Salem to persuade Oregon legislatures to better fund state colleges.
Illinois University’s Grapevine reports, average state funding for higher education fell by 44 percent between 1989 and 2014.
In addition to the argument that the President’s proposal to provide free community college education for everyone would take money away from the students most in need to help those who can afford to pay tuition, some are also arguing that, overall, students are not benefiting from a two-year degree.
“According to the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, only 22 percent of students graduate within three years, and 28 percent graduate within four,” reported CNN in January.
Due to credential inflation, pursuing a professional certification — which more clearly indicates a person’s skills than a degree — often pays off better than an associate’s degree, according to Census Bureau data.
However, according the Pew Research Center, the one group that will certainly benefit from the plan would be hispanics: “More Hispanics are already enrolled in college than ever before and, among those who are, nearly half attend a public two-year school, the highest share of any race or ethnicity, according to U.S. Department of Education data.”
Due to open enrollment, community colleges are more accessible to Hispanic students than four-year universities and no-cost tuition would only increase its accessibility.
Kelli Pangle | The Broadside