Two days ago a frequent reader asked me about my view on President Obama’s “free community college” proposal. Here are some initial thoughts.
First, it’s not totally free. If I understand it correctly the proposal will only cover tuition. There are a lot of other costs – books, room and board, travel, et cetera. These costs often exceed community college tuition.
In terms of outcomes this is what I would expect.
Community college enrollments would increase especially in business, industry and technology programs.
Business and industry would have an increased supply of needed skilled workers. This will be good for the economy.
Enrollments would decrease at the four year colleges at first but increase after a couple years as many community college grads would transfer their credits to four year colleges.
If for-profit colleges are not eligible it would certainly hurt their enrollments.
It would decrease student debt considerably. Recall the total amount of student debt is now over a trillion dollars. If not mitigated this could be the next bubble that causes a collapse of the economic markets someday.
If approved the proposal should have a positive economic impact on the economy. For example at my former college for each dollar invested the state benefited by $7. ( This study was done by an independent organization. This is not an uncommon finding in the community college world.) In short, the proposal should more than pay for itself over time.
It would be a win for middle class parents. They could take the savings emerging from free tuition and put it into their retirement accounts.
I would expect community college retention and graduation rates to increase as students must obtain a C+ average to be eligible for the free tuition.
If I understand it correctly States would have to put in one quarter of the costs. Most states that I am aware of already contribute at least that amount so it shouldn’t be a heavy burden on the States.
It should have a positive impact on our ability to be globally competitive.
Minority enrollments should increase substantially. This is critical for our society as by 2050 white population will be a minority so it’s essential that we boost minorty enrollments, retention and graduation rates.
I view the proposal as an extension of free public education to meet the changing needs of a competitive global economy.
Of course, most of the above are testable hypotheses!