During a recent visit to Tennessee, President Obama announced that he wants to start a (mostly) federal program which will allow anyone, regardless of socioeconomic status, the ability to attend community college for two years for “free”.
Unsurprisingly, this has created some controversy, and when I mentioned it on my Facebook page many people felt moved to comment on it both positively and negatively.
While I strongly believe that everyone in the US should have an education and the ability to further it as they see fit, the questions here are:
• Is affordability really the barrier to closing the education gap in America?
• If so, should the rest of the population pay for it?
According to this article from The Wall Street Journal, the President said his goal with this bill is to once again see the US have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. The reasoning behind this goal is to create more skilled workers and ultimately give them enhanced upward mobility.
Unfortunately, according to federal data, only one in five students attending a community college goes on to earn their bachelor’s degree within six years. On top of this, only 21% of first-time, full-time students earn an associate’s degree within three years.
It seems like instead of addressing the real issues of creating a thriving middle class, this administration believes they can fix this problem by throwing taxpayers’ money at it.
So if cost is already not a barrier (thanks to programs such as the Pell Grant, the Academic Competitiveness Grant, FSEOG, and the SMART Grant), then why would lowering the cost even further using taxpayer money increase these graduation rates?
Is it really taxpayers’ responsibility to pay for an additional two years of public education? Should the federal taxes Georgians pay be used for someone’s schooling in North Dakota or Texas?
In the proposal it states that the federal government will cover 75% of the cost and states will cover the remaining 25%. In all it will cost taxpayers roughly $60 Billion over 10 years. With the US government already holding $17 trillion in debt, shouldn’t we look long and hard before committing to that type of spending?
Furthermore, I believe that most people who received a higher education will tell you that what they really learned during their time in college were the life skills of being an adult. They learned how to hold themselves accountable, manage a schedule (both work and school), balance their personal budget, and then tackle tuition payments and student debt using the very skills they paid to learn. By making the first two years of college “free” for everyone, we may be dangerously minimizing or even eliminating the thought that spending time and money for school is an investment.
For most people, a college education has to be an investment. Part of the growing up process is actually having skin in the game. If college becomes an entitlement that every student receives, while taxpayers deal with the financial consequences, we are adding yet another layer to an already enriched entitlement based system.
I agree that educating young Americans is a keystone to the continued economic vitality of the United States. The reality, though, is that I just don’t see how a $60 billion spending program targeting a problem that doesn’t exist (affordable higher education) is going to help solve the real problem of a growing education gap here in America.
Certified financial planner Wes Moss offers financial and accessible investment advice to Atlanta Bargain Hunter readers.