An Analysis of the President’s Plan for a Free College Education

Grants and Partnerships Offering Two Free Years of College a Key Feature

By Edward Angell

During the State of the Union address in January, President Barack Obama laid the foundation for what he believed to be a plan that would help college students all over the country further their education. He proposed that college students attending city colleges will have the ability to obtain two years of free education through a series of increased government aid grants and partnerships with businesses across the country for specialized training as laid out on whitehouse.gov

President Obama drew on the policies of President Lyndon Johnson, known for his get-it-done style of governance, and of the early nineteenth century’s Progressive Party to illustrate the need of supporting middles class workers.

“We set up worker protections, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid to protect ourselves from the harshest adversity. We gave our citizens schools and colleges, infrastructure and the internet—tools they needed to go as far as their effort will take them,” Obama said. “…Middle-class economics means helping working families feel more secure in a world of constant change. That means helping folks afford childcare, college, health care, a home, and retirement.”

The President has said that jobs that require at least an associates degree are projected to grow twice as fast as opposed to those which require only a high school education. This plan has been met with both optimism and also plenty of skepticism.

In an article written by the staff of The Economist, staffers examined the appeal to this proposal using her own struggles as a guideline for how much this could help middle to lower middle class students looking to further their education.

The articles cites a hard working CUNY student as the model of who President Obama wants to reach with this new program.

“Ashley Martinez studies accounting at LaGuardia Community College in New York. She is also the mother of a toddler and worries about the cost of textbooks and daycare,” the article states. “She is exactly the type of person Barack Obama is trying to help with a new proposal to make at least two years of community college free.”

The article goes on to say how this plan is loosely based off the Tennessee Promise, which is a program available to students graduating from Tennessee high schools this year that help incoming college students alleviate the funds required for their education. The Tennessee Promise has drawn in almost 90 percent of the state of Tennessee’s high school seniors, effectively double what the state had figured would apply.

A New York Times article written by Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Tamar Lewin discussed how this plan, while ambitious and would certainly benefit students across the country, may come off as an intimidating prospect for those in the Republican party who would be against the idea of spending the money required to make this a reality.

Now that the GOP controls both the Senate and the House of Representatives, conservative lawmakers have two years to prove to Americans that they can govern effectively. This will make legislators extremely nervous to cut any type of deal with democrats.

Now over a month since the President highlighted the plan in his speech, few Republicans have crossed the aisle in support of his plan.

The White House has surprisingly failed to bring U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate education committee. Alexander oversaw the creation of Tennessee’s Promise, a program that pays for the tuition of all community college students.

Alexander, a former secretary of education, believes programs such as the president’s suggests that it should be left in the hands of individual states and not controlled by the federal government.

“The reason Tennessee can afford Tennessee Promise is that 56 percent of our state’s community college students already have a federal Pell grant, which averages $3,300, to help pay for the average $3,800-per-year tuition,” Alexander said. “The state pays the difference–$500 on average. Nationally, in 16 states, the average Pell grant pays for the typical student’s entire community college tuition.”

President Obama has acknowledged that this plan for free higher education will not be achieved quickly, nor will it be a smooth process. His proposal would cover both half time and full time students, respectively, as long as they maintain a 2.5 GPA, this translates to a C+ for the very minimum in order to keep receiving aid. If all states participate, as many as nine million students may be covered by the funds the government may provide.

Despite how republicans and democrats feel about the new proposal one thing they do reportedly agree on is that the form needed for students to fill out in order to receive financial aid as it stands today is too complex and overly complicated.

A bill could be passed in order to remedy this problem in the near future, making filing for financial aid a less tiresome process.

Stephanie Simon, a writer for Politico, starts off her article by detailing how much the plan would cost the United States altogether. A price tag of over $60 billion dollars is allegedly required in order for this to become realistic. Simon also strengthens the argument made by many writers that congress will more than likely not approve this proposal due to not wanting to spend more money on federal programs.

It is no secret that American colleges are the most expensive in the world, many countries approach their citizen’s advancement into higher learning in a variety of different ways. An article on distance-education.org written by Jennifer Williamson describes how other countries around the world approach college education.

Up until fairly recently, college was free in the United Kingdom. And while students native to the country are paying for their educations now, it is still nowhere near what we pay as students here in the United States.

Other countries like Sweden have a more sophisticated approach to their students’ bills. Sweden allows both native and non -native students 12 semesters of free education, the rest of a student’s education can be paid with student loans. This program sounds similar to what the president is trying to do here in the states with partially paying for student’s education.

With the plan still being very rudimentary and in its fledgling stages there is still plenty of room for improvement assuming the plan even makes it far enough as long as congress doesn’t immediately shoot down the proposal. The coming months will be very telling when it comes down to the fate of this program that practically all American students would love to see become a reality.

Additional reporting by Clifford Michel.

Categories: Politics

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