By KATIE REDMILES
During Tuesday’s State of the Union address, President Barack Obama presented his idea to help alleviate the burden of student debt.
Obama’s plan revolves around providing two years of community college tuition to those who earn it. The plan comes with conditions and parameters, such as requiring that students maintain good grades and a track to graduate on time. The specifics require students to attend university at least halftime, maintain a 2.5 GPA and make steady progress toward graduation.
The proposal has the possibility to save a student approximately $3,800 in tuition each year. According to White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, the plan will be made available “for responsible students.” The majority of the funding will be given by the federal government, while approximately a fourth of the cost is expected to be covered by the state.
The White House predicts an increase in student enrollment as a result of this plan, as well as employment, given the rising need for a higher education degree in order to obtain a career.
“By 2020, an estimated 35 percent of job openings will require at least a bachelor’s degree and 30 percent will require some college or an associate’s degree,” said a White House press release. “Forty percent of college students are enrolled at one of America’s more than 1,100 community colleges, which offer students affordable tuition, open admission policies, and convenient locations.”
Obama stated that he did not want more great minds to miss out on the education they deserve or the career they hope for due to financial restrictions.
Another factor of the proposal professionals in the education system are enthused about is the prominence it will give to community colleges. The hope is that by making community college degrees more affordable and placing them in the main light of progress then more students will be motivated to continue their higher education.
A bonus for students in this regard also includes the increase in four-year institutions accepting full transfer credits from community colleges.
Despite the positive attention this plan is giving community colleges, some in the field are worried about how the plan will affect their students. The fear is that students will be more pressured to focus on the grades earned rather than the material being learned.
The plan is still too early, however, to tell exactly what effect it will have on the amount of students attending community college and getting degrees without an overwhelming amount of student debt.
“At this point, I don’t know what the funding process would be, so I can’t say one way or the other,” said Clark State Community College President Jo Blondin in an interview with Inside Higher Education.
Though she did not deny the excitement this plan has evoked on her own campus, Blondin said she hopes to see more progress for community college in the future.
In the address, Obama also focused on the possible bipartisan unifying effect the proposal could have in the congress.
However, many Republicans have already spoken out against the proposed plan. Rep. John Kline, the Republican who leads the House Education Committee, said to Inside Higher Education that Obama “described the same tired agenda we’ve heard about countless times before.”
Kline also commented on his disagreement with more government intervention for financial issues.
Earlier this month, Obama also touched on making federal student aid more accessible by simplifying it, a plan both parties are forming a consensus on.
Obama noted that the free community college plan is a bolder step for the United States, and more of its potential future will be decided as its specifics are fleshed out in Congress.