This archived article was written by: Daniel Pike
“Free” is nearly everyone’s favorite four-letter word, and holds much significance with students living on a budget. But is anything ever really free?
In a bold new move, President Barack Obama is sending Congress a plan to reduce community college tuition to zero. It is projected that this plan could help approximately nine million students, saving the average full-time student $3,800 per year.
In his sixth State of The Union address, Obama said, “By the end of this decade, two-in-three job openings will require some higher education, and yet, we still live in a country where bright, striving Americans are priced out of the education they need.”
At first glance, the benefit seems obvious: on average, people with an associate’s degree earn up to 25 percent more than people who never attend college. And since 40 percent of our nation’s college students choose community colleges, not only is it good for families, it stimulates local economies and strengthens work forces.
At this time, it is still only a plan; however, if it is seen to fruition, it could greatly benefit USU Eastern and its students.
The focus of Obama’s plan is to make two-year degrees affordable for everyone. Since tuition is a large part of what it takes to obtain a higher education, many are supportive of and hopeful for this plan.
Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Management, Greg Dart thinks, “It’s an interesting proposal, and I love that we have a president who is trying to combat rising tuition levels and is striving to make college affordable to everyone.”
Dart thinks that if the plan succeeds, this initiative could have a positive impact on enrollment, though it would not be without potential drawbacks. “My biggest worry is that it could have an impact on Federal Pell Grant money that is already available, and with those funds, community colleges are already free to many people. It’s still too early to tell, so we’ll have to wait and see.”
Still, the Vice Chancellor asserts that he strongly believes that making two-year degrees affordable for everyone is important. “The financial barriers shouldn’t be what keeps a student from getting a higher education of any kind, and I think that is probably our biggest barrier in this part of the state.”
Two critical questions on everyone’s minds are “How much will it cost and who is going to pay for it?”
One estimate says that funding community colleges will cost about $8 billion per year, and at this stage, nobody knows exactly where that revenue will come from. Since Americans are a resilient and resourceful people, Chancellor Joe Peterson feels, “If this initiative is passed, America will find a way to fund it. One similar initiative with a comparable price tag was the GI Bill, which was a success; so the United States has been able to do this before, and can do it again.”
As well as being optimistic about the president’s brave new plan, Peterson is aware of the need to educate the people of Carbon and Emery counties. “No longer is a high school credential likely to lead to a job that will sustain a family in today’s economy. In order to do that, you need to have at least some college credential.”
The Chancellor is confident that if this proposal is given the chance to flourish, it will substantially increase enrollment at USU Eastern, and with 23 percent of the budget coming solely from tuition, students and staff would start seeing the benefits within a year.
Whether his plan materializes or not, Obama accomplished something worthwhile: he started an essential and meaningful conversation about getting Americans a fair chance at an affordable higher education. And so far, most like where it is going.