By Lauren Hardman
Pulse Staff Reporter
President Barack Obama’s tuition-free community college plan could help an estimated 9 million students receive an education. Obama introduced the idea during his State of the Union address in January.
The plan proposes free tuition for students who maintain a 2.5 GPA or higher and attend school at least half-time. This plan is to help economically disadvantaged students continue their education and become active members of the labor force and society at large. Students who wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend college could obtain a two-year degree, which would provide more job opportunities.
According to The Washington Post, the Tennessee Promise, the free tuition college program that uses state lottery funds to pay tuition at community colleges, is the foundation for Obama’s plan.
Obama’s proposal “emphasizes the value of community college in American society,” said Dr. Mike Flores, president of Palo Alto College. “Students in the area who want to go to school, but otherwise may not be able to, might want to come here.”
Flores explained that community colleges play an important role in helping more students be part of the middle class, and he agreed that Obama’s plan would help people get an education. Flores believes that more students would enroll.
“College could be cost prohibitive,” he said. “Community colleges play a vital role in doing good work,” referring to community colleges’ availability to economically and academically disadvantaged students.
Palo Alto College History Professor Victoria Beckman-Wilson said, “My immediate reaction was, ‘Wow, that’s a great idea!’”
“The nuts and bolts of implementing it and how it’s going to be funded is another matter entirely, but I think on the surface, it’s a really good idea,” she said.
The Washington Post (Jan. 9, 2015) reported that the ultimate goal was to make community college as free and universal as high school, but tuition and fees cover only 21 percent of college costs. An ed.gov article found that the program would save roughly 9 million students $3,800 in tuition per year. The federal government would cover 75 percent of the cost, and the states would cover the remaining 25 percent, according to nextnewdeal.net.
Katheranialynn Fambrough-Brown, a freshman at Palo Alto College, said, “Hopefully, it will encourage people to get their college education.”
On a more local level, if Obama’s proposal is realized, Palo Alto College may become a top pick for new students in the San Antonio area. Palo Alto College is ranked number one in the state on ratemyprofessors.com.
While the idea of free community college is undeniably promising, there are potential pitfalls.
Jonathan Alter, a writer for The Daily Beast, pointed out, “The biggest problem with the Obama plan is that it doesn’t call for blowing up the existing guidance/advisory system.”
No information on how community college faculty and staff would be affected has been released. According to Alter, if there are no adjustments made to the teacher-to-student and counselor-to-student ratios, the plan runs the risk of backfiring.
Students seeking academic or career advice need guidance counselors and teachers to aid in making effective changes in their educational and career paths. If the faculty and staff are overworked with many additional students, a tuition-free community college education is useless, Alter believes.
According to U.S. News & World Report (Jan. 16, 2015), it could be years before free community college is a reality. Nextnewdeal.com said there’s little chance of the program passing Congress, but the idea could spread among the states. According to U.S. News & World Report (Jan. 16, 2015), the bill has to pass Congress and be implemented by all 50 states.