President Barack Obama tackled many issues in his State of the Union address, but the most groundbreaking was his proposed plan for community colleges. Obama proposed making two years of community college free for all students if they maintain good grades, a minimum 3.0 GPA and stay on a graduation track.
The plan has received mixed support, with critics saying the plan would lead to increased taxes and costs across the board.
Making two years of community college free is an investment in the people of America and a necessary change heading toward the future economic climate.
A 2013 Georgetown study reports that 55 million jobs will open in the economy through 2020. However, 35 percent of the jobs will require a bachelor’s degree or higher, 30 percent will require some college or an associate’s degree and only 36 percent of total job openings are expected to require only a high school education.
In order to adjust, more students than ever will need to attend college. Unfortunately, the cost of a college degree has risen faster than almost any other price over the past 30 years.
A 2012 Bloomberg study reported the price of a college degree has increased by 1,120 percent, nearly twice as much as healthcare and almost six times higher than the Consumer Price Index since 1978.
Baylor is a perfect example of the cost explosion. In 2001, a freshman or transfer paid merely $12,804 in required tuition and fees for an academic year. For the 2014-15 school year, a freshman or transfer student will pay $38,560 in required tuition and fees, a 201.2 percent increase over the course of only 14 years.
Perhaps most troubling, student loan debt has increased to over $1.2 trillion, or almost $4,000 for every man, woman and child in America. With the increase in college costs, it is no longer feasible for a student to work his or her way through college debt free. The University of Texas estimates its total cost of undergraduate education to be $25,862; a student would have to work almost 70 hours per week to come close to affording that, not taking into account other bills he or she may have. To pay the expected $54,160 at Baylor, a private institution, a student would have to work 144 hours out of 168 total in a week.
Having millions of Americans in debt is not only negative for individuals, but has a huge effect on the economy. When individuals are in debt, consumer confidence and discretionary spending plummets, creating depressed economic conditions.
Government-funded community college would attack the issue right at the source.
Individuals can use these two years to prepare themselves for a transfer to a larger institution, as the first two years tend to focus on prerequisites. At the end of the day, they could still graduate with a degree from a major institution if they so choose. If not, getting vocational training or an associate’s degree can also make a significant impact on future earnings.
In the short term, estimates say the program could cost the government $60 billion over the course of 10 years, which is certainly not an insignificant number.
However, the United States budget was over $3 trillion in 2014. The military budget in itself was more than $600 billion. In the grand scheme of the U.S economy, it isn’t much.
Spending this money is not a waste, but rather an investment in the future of the United States economy. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, those possessing an associate’s degree earn over 33 percent more than those with a high school diploma. Individuals with a four-year degree earn 50 percent more.
The best way for an economy to grow is to take full advantage of the people within it. Providing two years free for community college, like France, Germany, Finland and many other nations do, would be a first step toward making the economy as productive as possible for everyone.