Last week, President Barack Obama announced a new federal plan to ensure two tuition-free years for potential students at any community college in the United States.
Unsurprisingly, this was met with rather lively reactions from the media and other politicians alike, who have demonstrated a rather wide range of opinions about his plan.
Detractors might once again criticize the fact that Obama is spending more federal money while not stopping to consider the fact that it costs $60 billion over 10 years.
How is this number significant? The estimate for the current amount of spending on financial aid for the federal government, according to the New America Foundation, totaled around $77 billion in 2012.
Portions of this aid do not always go to those who aren’t the most financially capable of attending college, so benefits could be shaved off from students who do not need them in order to ensure the poorest of citizens are given an equal opportunity to at least a partial college education.
Not to mention the fact that tuition across all graduate students and undergrads in both four-year schools and community colleges across the United States paid around $60 billion in tuition fees in 2012.
Given the $77 billion in financial aid spending, why is it not possible to make tuition at all community colleges and public institutions either free or cheap for the more affluent, à la a progressive system which determines cost based on financial status?
What makes a $60 billion plan over 10 years (knowing the rest of the figures are annual) to make tuition free at community colleges unattainable knowing these numbers, even if you keep current financial aid systems in place?
Of course, this option should only be available to capable students and should be measured and controlled in order to ensure that public institutions do not become flooded with a tidal wave of students eager to attend college, but perhaps not so eager to do the work or actually finish college.
To address this problem, Obama’s plan does require student accountability, only granting this option to high school students who manage to keep at least a 2.5 GPA average in school. His plan is even modeled after a current community college program in Tennessee, called Tennessee Promise, promoted by Republican governor Bill Haslam.
You would think that there would be a perception based on this fact that this is potentially a proposal that benefits in a bipartisan manner, but it is still being met with uncertainty and resistance by some in the Republican crowd.
For example, Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker stated that he didn’t think a new federal program for student aid modeled after the one in his own state was appropriate.
“You’re always better off letting states mimic each other,” Corker said.
Sen. Corker might have a better point if Obama’s plan wasn’t already an opt-in policy.
As such, when and if his proposal is embraced by Congress, not every state is required to follow his plan immediately. Thusly, the plan already allows for a situation which Corker describes, in which a handful of states could test the initiative and slowly determine its effectiveness so that other states might adopt it as they see fit.
So what are we waiting for? In a world where financial status can still heavily disadvantage an individual or even bar them from any form of higher education, this is an opportunity to create equal ground for those individuals.
Obama isn’t forcing any state to adhere to this plan, so if it is ineffective, it can quickly be stopped.
Why not give it a try? Maybe it will be the first opportunity for a number of great minds to have an avenue to an education they dream of.