Monday, January 12, 2015

Obama's Latest Folly: Free Community College

It seems as if the President lies awake all night trying to come up with new programs that will increase the size of the federal bureaucracy, spending, and debt; while, at the same time, make an increasing number of Americans dependent on a government that keeps giving them lots and lots of free stuff, thus garnering more and more votes for the Democrats that helped give it to them. The President's latest iteration of the "free stuff: philosophy is a free Community College degree.  Of course, he knows that the Republican House and Senate won't approve such a plan, but he doesn't care because his only "real" intent is to use their objection as a political weapon.

So, what's Obama plan?

A 75% federal and 25% state-paid Community College degree provided that each qualified student: (1) is working towards a degree; (2) maintains a 2.5 grade point average; (3) is attending a Community College who's credits are "fully" transferable to a 4-year college; and, (4) the credit load is at least half-time (6 credit hours per semester).  According to Obama's accounting, his plan will help 9 million students with an average full-time student saving as much as $3800 each year.  This, providing all 50 states agree to participate in the program.  The federal cost is estimated to be $60 billion over 10-years with the states picking up another $20 billion in their own budgets.

As with so much of everything that Obama's dreams up,  a lot just doesn't add up.

Before we explore all the questionable issues associated with the plan, you need to understand some basic facts about the community college programs throughout the country.   There are 1132 community colleges with approximately 13 million students.  Community colleges typically come in three flavors: (1) taxpayer supported public colleges; (2) not-for-profit private schools; and (3) for-profit colleges.  The public schools have the lowest tuition costs.  The other two types are much more expensive with the for-profit schools being the most costly.

So, with those facts in mind, let's take a look at Obama's questionable numbers and the problems associated with his proposal.

9 Million Students Helped?

According to the President, the federal cost of the program would be $60 billion over 10 years and it would help 9 million students; with the average full-time student saving $3800/year.  However, when you do the math against the true $80 billion combined state and federal cost over 10 years, the average cost for 9 million students is almost $8,900; or, almost 2-1/2 times the supposed annual savings for just one full-time student enrolled in the program.  Also, 9 million students over ten years or roughly the equivalent of 900,000 students a year is just a fraction (7%) of the 13 million students who attend community colleges each year.

The President's program ignores the fact that most community college students already get state and federal assistance and funding.

Nearly a quarter (23%) of all community college students receive federal Pell Grants for being from low-income families.  31% receive federal Title IV financial aid.  19% receive institutional grants (state and local scholarships) from the school they are attending.  13% get low-interest federal education loans known as Stafford loans.  Another 8% receive federal campus-based aid.  In essence, only about 6% of students go without some form of assistance; probably because they are the richest of the bunch.  Also, despite all this assistance, only 20% of public community college students successfully earn their associate degrees. 

Fully Transferable Credits to a Four-Year College?

Under the President's plan, eligible students must attend a 2-year college and curriculum where 100% of all earned credits are transferable to a full 4-year undergraduate program.  Well, obviously, the President must not have done his homework on this one.  Based on a recent study, only 58% of  community college students -- that attempted to transfer credits to a 4-year institution -- were able to transfer 90% or more of their earned credits.  The 90% figure used in the study means that it is highly unlikely that all 100% of credits -- as the President insists on -- will be transferable.  In that same study, 14% of students couldn't transfer as little as 10% of their credits.  And, the remaining 28% lost between 10% and 89% of their credits.  How this President thinks that a federal bureaucracy will be able to determine which students are capable of fully transferring all class credits is beyond me.

The States can't afford more educational expenses.

Under Obama's 75%/25% funding plan, the states would be expected to pick up 25% of the plan's cost or an additional $2 billion dollars in educational expenses per year.  The problem with that concept is that most of the states are already cutting back on education costs in order to maintain their budgets, and at the same time, cover the ever increasing cost of retired educator's pensions.  In the arena of higher education, tuition rates have been raised in order to offset those cost reductions.  So, basically, don't expect too many -- if any -- states to participate in the President's plan.

The bottom line.

To my knowledge, President Obama has never once indicated that there is a problem with the community college system that needs an $80 billion fix. The only reason given for making this change is to make a community college education more accessible.  But, as I have shown, there are already many funding options that make enrollment possible.  Besides -- because of the recession and because of extremely high tuition costs in 4-year colleges --  enrollment levels are quite high at community colleges; and, no longer are the days when our community colleges had low enrollment percentages.  Instead,  many are now in the position of having to reject student applications for lack of classroom space.

I believe that this President has a bigger plan afoot.  I think he sees this move as a way to get an initial toehold into what would ultimately be the complete socialization/federalization of public higher education.  First, it's the community colleges.  Then, there will be the argument that, if you fund two years of community college education, why shouldn't the first two years of education at a 4-year college also be paid for.  Then, the next leap will be the funding of all 4-years. 


How does Obama's community college plan work?:

Obama's Free Community College Idea May Be Hard Sell:

Community Colleges’ Most Challenging Task: Increase Completion Rates:

Only 16% of US community college students go on to earn a four-year degree:

The American Association of Community Colleges: Financial Aid Statistics:

Credit Transfers: Why many community college students don't graduate:

Most States Funding Schools Less Than Before the Recession:

Sagging state funding jacks up college tuition:

 Beware of Rejection Letters from Your Local Community College:

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