Obama’s proposal: Worth the investment

On Air Force One, President Obama addresses the nation in a video statement regarding free tuition for community college campuses.

 The thought of having two tuition-free years of college is ultimate happiness for any struggling student.

With education becoming an increasingly expensive investment, students all too often find themselves stuck between a mountain of debt and a low-paying job pit.

That is why President Barack Obama’s call for free community college is so appealing.

In his recent State of the Union address, Obama proclaimed that community college should be “as free and universal as high school.”

We agree. Our country needs a college-educated workforce to meet the challenges of the global market. As more and more jobs require candidates to have at least an associate’s degree, Congressional approval of this plan would go far to help students from low income families qualify to compete.

The idea is to make a two-year degree accessible for all students who could benefit in all 50 states. To qualify, responsible students would have to be enrolled half-time student, maintain a minimum 2.5 GPA, and make steady progress toward program completion. If this proposal becomes law, as many as 9 million students could benefit from the savings.

Some people reject the notion that free community college would actually help California’s students achieve success. Others object to the estimated $60 billion cost to taxpayers over the course of ten years.

At $46 a unit, California’s fees are the lowest in the nation. In addition, loans, scholarships and financial aid options are available for those who qualify. At Citrus College, many students who come from low-income households already pay no tuition. However, in other states like Arizona the cost of community college is double that of resident students and triple for out of state students.

Obama’s plan would also require all public community colleges to develop more programs that fully transfer credits to local public four-year colleges or universities and/or lead to in-demand degrees or certificates. Improving community college outcomes would be good for the entire country, including the California community colleges with its 2 million students, the largest such system in the world.

Forty percent of American students begin their studies at a community college. The diversity of the student body is striking. People from every race, ethnicity, age group, ability and socio-economic background are represented. We are not just a bunch of kids. We are adults striving for a better life.

Of course, free education is not a panacea. Paying tuition is only one part of the struggle faced by today’s community college students. Balancing work and family obligations, committing to a major field of study, dealing with personal and cultural obstacles, and overcoming the unforeseen pitfalls of daily life can be formidable barriers to success.

Developing pride and ownership of one’s education takes time. Nevertheless, making the America’s College Promise a reality could shine a much-needed light for students trying to find their way through the dark educational tunnel. The investment is worth considering.