President Barack Obama’s recently unveiled “America’s College Promise” — a proposal of two years’ free community college tuition — has spurred debate in Congress and around the WCC campus.
Many students like the idea of a free community college. “With more people attending college and acquiring higher education and skills, our economy prospers and our standard of living increases,” said student Jordan Santos.
Others worry it may do more harm than good.
He has the right intentions,” said student,Leila Latorre,”but in the long run we will end up suffering because of the increased taxes.”
Students also expressed concern about overcrowded classes and a devaluing of a college education just because it was free.
Obama said in his State of the Union address that his plan is “to lower the cost of community college — to zero.” Currently community college operating budgets are covered by a combination of tuition, state taxpayer dollars, federal grants and private donors.
Obama’s plan will shift tuition payment from students to the federal government, which would cover 75 percent of those funds, with the rest made up by participating states.
“Community college should be free for those willing to work for it,” said Obama.
With community college tuition rates averaging over $3,300 a year for full-time attendance, this could save students a substantial amount of money each year.
The plan calls for students to maintain a 2.5 GPA and be enrolled at least half-time.
So how much would the plan cost in total? According to Eric Schultz, a White House spokesperson, the cost could be $60 billion over the first 10 years, if enacted.
“Whoever you are, this plan is your chance to graduate…without a load of debt,” Obama said in his speech. “Forty percent of our college students choose community college.”
It is believed the plan could increase community college attendance by 20 percent.
However, the reality is, as economics associate professor Paul Briggs points out, “Tuition is not the only cost of college. There are books and lost wages that are incurred as a result of going to college.”
That’s why financial aid may still be needed to help students with other costs, such as books, class fees and their cost-of-living expenses, including food and rent.
Ardis Eschenberg, WCC vice chancellor for academic affairs, said, “If Pell (grants) were to remain a vital program in conjunction with this, it would provide some much-needed support for our students in Hawai‘i.”
The president’s plan includes raising capital gains taxes and other taxes on the wealthy, but many Republicans in Congress are not in support of this plan. They say that the federal Pell grant and other financial aid cover students who need the money.
Opponents say that with the increase in community college attendance, four-year colleges and universities would lose students and suffer budget cuts from the loss in tuition revenue.
“We would also need to consider carefully how this would be financed, especially given the fact that student tuition continues to be a very necessary part of our overall budget,” said Eschenberg.
Many students on campus are also worried about how an inflow of students could affect the number and quality of the classes, class sizes and not being able to get into the classes they need to graduate.
“Free tuition will lead to an influx of students, leading to less class availability…When you give things out for free, you devalue that thing,” said Joshua Kava.
With both the House and Senate in Congress now controlled by the Republicans, many believe that this proposal will be dead on arrival.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “He knows we’re not likely to pass these kinds of measures,” when asked about Obama’s new policy proposals.
But Roy Fujimoto, WCC political science professor, believes differently. He said, “A lot of proposals are for the middle class, so if the Republicans decide to say thumbs down to this, what do you think is going to happen in the 2016 elections?”
He continued that they would most likely propose policies to find some middle ground, and that Obama’s approach was to focus on issues more voters could support.
by Jonathan Blais, Ka ‘Ohana Staff Reporter