Community colleges don’t need to be free

It sounds like a great plan – so-called “free” community college will make education cheaper, create jobs, and stimulate the economy!

Too bad the facts don’t line up with the rhetoric. The Lariat editorial “Invest in economy with free two-year community college,” completely ignores the biggest problems with the president’s new proposal.

First, the editorial cites the “average cost of college” with Baylor as an example. Why use Baylor as an example of the cost of college when we’re talking about community colleges? Probably because it sounds scarier to say $54,000 in reference to Baylor (a number that includes all personal expenses, food, and transportation rather than just tuition) than to cite the actual number for community colleges.

The average tuition and fees for a year at a public two-year college (the relevant comparison for this proposal) is only $3,347, according to College Board. Suddenly the problem doesn’t seem so dire.

The president’s proposal (and Lariat editorial) also left out the fact that most of these community college students already receive significant aid. A 2011 College Board study showed that the average student at a public two-year college already received $1,700 in aid, most of it from the federal government in the form of a Pell Grant. Many community colleges will offer full scholarships for students who have good grades in high school, making the president’s proposal unnecessary.

What’s worse? Community colleges aren’t doing so well at graduating students. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, only 21 percent of first-time, full-time students earn an associate’s degree (a two-year program) within three years. What’s more? “Tuition is not the main obstacle to the completion of a degree for low-income students.”

The proposal also requires students to maintain a 2.5 GPA (around a C+) average. Doesn’t that seem a little lenient? Community colleges are not exactly known for being academically rigorous.

The president’s proposal may have sounded nice, but upon further examination, it’s clear that the money could have much better use elsewhere.

— Lombard, Ill., senior Danny Huizinga
Baylor Business Fellows