The TRUE Effects of Free Community College

ObamaThursday President Barack Obama announced his plan to provide two free years of community college coursework “for anyone who’s willing to work for it.” In a video that he posted on the White House’s official Facebook page , the President spoke about education being the key to success not only for traditional aged students but for work force development as well. As he sat aboard Air Force One the President spoke, “It’s something that we can accomplish and it’s something that will train our work force so that we can compete with anybody in the world.” The hope is that all 50 states will buy into the President’s initiative, supporting 25% of the program while the U.S. Government foots the bill for the other 75% (Parsons,2015) . Now the President’s plan is groundbreaking on the Federal level, but it can trace its roots to a plan implemented by Republican Governor Bill Haslam of Tennessee, called the Tennessee Promise .

On the surface this looks to be a feel-good win for the President and an initiative that could do a lot of good in this country. When it comes to certain work force sectors in this country we are operating with serious gaps and deficiencies. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing has cited studies that show by 2025 due to an aging population the shortage of Registered Nurses in the workplace could exceed 500,000 . A 2012 survey of employers conducted by the Manpower Group showed that skilled trades positions have been amongst the hardest positions to fill due to lack of job-seekers with qualifications and the prerequisite training . Allied health programs and technical training programs are two of the niche areas in post-secondary education that community colleges tend to do well in, so this initiative could go a long way towards fulfilling those needs; however there are still many questions and potential drawbacks that need to be addressed.

For starters, will this program actually meet its aim and actually help the people most in need of an opportunity? Many times initiatives aimed at getting more people an opportunity to enroll in school, ends up being taken advantage of by those who probably would have gone to college anyway without help. Can we really afford to pay for this at the moment? The White House hasn’t put an estimated figure on how much this program will cost yet, but I imagine it will be significant and will come out of the U.S. tax payer’s pocket. There is also the theory of ratcheting and the revenue theory of costs (Bowen’s Law). Howard Bowen believed that when it comes to higher Education that costs are determined by sources of revenue relative to student enrollment. This program would essentially be providing another stream of revenue to colleges, perhaps as an unintentional consequence raising the tuition costs of those who fall outside of the qualifications for the program. With the potential influx of new students what about increases in faculty, staff, infrastructure? You just can’t add more students without people to teach them, people to assist in all areas of instruction, and areas to house and educate them. In addition to these issues what, if any effect, will this initiative have on the ever looming Higher Education Bubble that some predict will burst under the burgeoning student loan debt and costs associated with it (Wasik, 2013)?

In reality the president’s announcement was merely a teaser and more concrete information about how this program will be managed and operated will need to be known before anyone can say objectively whether this program will be a major success or waste of tax payer’s dollars. For those crafting the program, they will need to pay close attention to how Tennessee’s program fares as it rolls out this year. This isn’t something that we all should rush into lightly. If studied, thoughtfully planned and executed, I could see this initiative doing wonders to help with the issues of access, equity, and workforce gaps we have in this nation. If enacted haphazardly without proper forethought this could become another Albatross around the American taxpayer’s necks saddling us all with more debt and doing nothing to actually improve the real issues at hand. At events today in Tennessee, the President plans to deliver more details of his initiative. Hopefully we can learn more about his plans in enacting this landmark move.

  1. https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=10153120229619238&set=vb.63811549237
  2. Parsons, C. (2015, January 8). Obama plan for free community college: U.S. would pay 75%, states 25%. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 9, 2015, from http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-obama-community-college-20150108-story.html
  3. http://tennesseepromise.gov/
  4. Nursing Shortage. (2014, April 24). Retrieved January 9, 2015, from http://www.aacn.nche.edu/media-relations/nursing-shortage-resources/about
  5. 2012 Talent Shortage Survey. (2012, January 1). Retrieved January 9, 2015, from http://www.manpowergroup.us/campaigns/talent-shortage-2012/
  6. Wasik, J. (2013, September 4). Three Reasons Why College Bubble Will Burst. Retrieved January 9, 2015, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/johnwasik/2013/09/04/three-reasons-why-college-bubble-will-burst/