President Barack Obama took the stand with grace and promise gleaming in his eyes, the White House emblem posted patriotically behind him as he stood to deliver the 2015 State of the Union Speech, Tuesday Jan. 20. In his address, President Obama said that 40 percent of the students in America choose community college.
He goes on to say, “That’s why I am sending this congress a bold new plan to lower the cost of community college—to zero.”
Free community college programs such as the Tennessee Promise and the Chicago STAR scholarship have already been implemented in Chicago, IL and Tennessee, but to see this plan transpire nationally is a goal the president intends to see achieved.
Tyler Junior College is a top ranked junior college in Texas. It is a cheaper option when starting higher education.
The cost of tuition for 15 credit hours is $2,500 per year at TJC, whereas at a private university it costs an average of $41,000 a year.
Sarah Van Cleef, the chief financial officer says that TJC gives financial aid and pell grants to some students so they pay little to nothing when it comes to tuition.
According to the article “Student debt Avoidance Strategies” written by Christi Khalaf, Tyler Area Business Education Council, students graduate from TJC with an average debt of $11,477, significantly lower than the national student average debt which is $26,600.
To implement a plan such as making community college free would mean changes in the structure of TJC academics.
The White House proposal says “those community college students must enroll at least half-time, earn a 2.5 grade-point average and make steady progress toward completing their program.”
However there is a lot of doubt surrounding the specifics of the plan and whether or not it will pass. Dr. Metke believes that the bill won’t pass as it is in the state of Texas.
“I’m afraid it will get lost in the politics of it all”, says Metke.
Having tuition paid in full will mean extra money in student’s pockets.
“I think it would increase students, I think a lot more people would take advantage of it. A lot of people could go to school without worrying where the tuition money will come from,” said Nakeea Hubbard, a criminal justice student at TJC.
Making tuition free at TJC will give more students the opportunity to attend college.
The benefits could possibly help students even in their personal lives. The extra money would help the working student, the single parent trying to finish their degree to help support their family, the commuter and everyone else in between.
“It would help me in many ways, I would be able to help my mom out because she is a single parent. It will help me save up to go to university when I finish community college,” says Hubbard.
Looking ahead prematurely, there are some structural things TJC would have to modify such as classroom sizes and parking availability as well as admission modifications to make the plan work. Like all plans and programs the free community college plan has its pros and cons.
“The devil is in the details,” Dr. Metke says jokingly.
The plan to promote community college and make it available and more affordable to the average income household is one of great interest. Dr. Metke continues on to say that he is excited about the recognition of the junior colleges and this could be the beginning of the solution to some economic problems.
In the state of Texas the average student loan debt is $25,244, and approximately 59% of the students in Texas are in debt. In order for this plan to work it would involve the states to take on some of the financial responsibility.
According to the fact sheet sent out by the Office of the Press Secretary, the federal government will pay The America’s College Promise proposal with contributions by the state.
Federal funding will cover three-quarters of the average cost of community college. States that choose to participate will be expected to contribute the remaining funds necessary to eliminate college tuition for eligible students.
What the plan doesn’t specify is the fact that only the tuition will be covered. All other cost such as books and student housing are not included in the proposal.
The details of this proposal are still being worked out; even so Tennessee and Chicago are leading the U.S. with their implementation of a similar plan. Regardless of the kinks that are being worked out, this plan has the potential to change higher education in America.