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Will Community College Tuition Go Down to Zero?

On January 20th, during his 2015 State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama said:

“By the end of this decade, two in three job openings will require some higher education. Two in three. And yet, we still live in a country where too many bright, striving Americans are priced out of the education they need. It’s not fair to them, and it’s not smart for our future. That’s why I am sending this Congress a bold new plan to lower the cost of community collegeto zero.”

President Obama went on to say Tuesday night that 40 percent of students who pursue higher education opt for community college, and that they represent a range of ages and stages in life.

Those who go to community college could be those fresh out of high school to single parents to veterans to those looking for a new and better career.

The President said he wants such a tuition-free community college system—already happening in Tennessee with the first “Tennessee Promise” class to kick start this fall—so that higher education is universal, accessible just like high school is today.

According to “The White House Blog,” there are some stipulations for this program. Students would have to keep a minimum GPA of 2.5 and attend community college “at least half-time”. Among the would-be requirements for community colleges are offering relevant, in-demand occupational training and/or programs where credits could be transferred towards a four-year degree. As for funding, the blog states the federal government would have to be responsible for covering three quarters of the tuition with the remainder being covered at the state level.

President Obama actually announced his proposal of making “ two years of community college free for responsible students across America,” on January 8th. Naturally it has sparked some debate in the last couple weeks.

“By the end of this decade, two in three job openings will require some higher education.”

For example, the Director of the Center on Higher Education Reform, Andrew P. Kelly wrote a piece for Forbes entitled “Four Reasons To Be Skeptical About Obama’s Free Community College Proposal” (January 9, 2015).

Among his points, Kelly stated that while free community college tuition would increase enrollment, it does not guarantee program completion or student success. Kelly also warns that if enacted, this model could potentially create a monopoly of public community colleges to the downfall of some private colleges that offer innovative and tailored-learning programs.

On the other hand, the President of Montgomery College in Maryland, Dr. DeRionne P. Pollard, supports Obama’s “America’s College Promise” calling it a “game changer.” Dr. Pollard opens her Op-ed recently published in Baltimore Sun with at the age of six, she remembers sitting in the back of a community college classroom. Her aunt, who was taking care of her and five other kids, was taking night classes there which ultimately led to a “successful home business.”

An excerpt from Dr. Pollard’s piece, regarding the U.S. President’s proposal, reads:

“Two years of tuition-free study at a community college can be transformational. With potentially 9 million people eligible for the benefit, this initiative would have an extraordinary impact on communities traditionally left behind. Last year, 622 students earned certificates at MC, making them eligible for in-demand jobs such as medical sonographer, dialysis technician and pharmacy technician.”

Dr. Pollard added, the demand for “skilled workers” within the health care field, as well as other fields like IT and trades, continues to increase.

As we await to see whether free community college tuition becomes a reality in the U.S., you can still take the time to research educational opportunities and career prospects, analyzing time and tuition costs with job demand and future salaries.

You can also ask prospective schools about scholarship and bursary programs, as well as graduation and job placement rates.

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