Local college officials want to hear more on Obama’s community college initiative

21 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Pascrell vows to fight for Obama’s free community college plan.

This might’ve been the sentiment had President Obama enlisted Oprah for his latest education-related announcement, but alas, another missed opportunity. To get serious for a second, though, Obama made huge waves in the world of education recently, when he revealed his proposal for what’s tentatively being called “America’s College Promise,” which would allow American students to attend two years of “free” community college, as long as they’re “willing to work for it.” “It’s something that we can accomplish, the president declared. “And it’s something that will train our workforce, so that we can compete with anybody in the world.” Right now, the White House estimates that “America’s College Promise” would save students approximately $3,800 per year in tuition, with as many as 9 million Americans benefiting from it. But she graduated in 2012 as valedictorian, president of the Bergen chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa honor society and chief of staff in student government. Comparatively, independent estimates find the average two-year college program to be around $3,700, while College Board puts the average yearly tuition for a four-year school at just over $3,300 — or over $11,000 including room and board.

Consider: Of all of the students who enrolled in public community college for the first time in the fall of 2003, only one-quarter earned any kind of certificate or associate’s degree within six years. If we want to significantly improve educational outcomes, we need to both make college more affordable so more students can enroll, and make the reforms needed to ensure community college students can succeed in their courses, complete their programs, and graduate within a reasonable amount of time. If grants are awarded to eligible students on top of free tuition, as President Obama proposes, then many of these affordability issues would be addressed. Better access to post-secondary education will lift stagnant wages, Pascrell said. “This is about giving workers the ability to earn more, which will ultimately result in more tax revenue and less reliance on government support,” he said.

Such reforms, many features of which have also been enacted in the City University of New York’s Accelerated Studies in Associate Programs (ASAP), have doubled the graduation rate for participants. More importantly, however, assuming the government can find a way to make this two-year program work, they must still find a way to make it work for those who need it more than anyone else. It includes requirements that community colleges “adopt promising and evidence-based institutional reforms to improve student outcomes.” But his plan does not provide colleges with additional resources to help them in these efforts.

Steven Rose, president of Passaic County Community College, said college can be impossible for single mothers, even at the slightly more than $100-per-credit cost for in-county residents at Passaic. Let’s start with the fact that for one thing, plenty of students start at community college with the aim of transferring to different schools to complete their education. But the real kicker here is that the cost of higher education at the non-community college level remains poised to stay the same, or continue to get even higher. Despite these obstacles, the president’s proposal opens the door to a broader discussion of a comprehensive strategy for community colleges that emphasizes both affordability and performance.

However, that doesn’t mean that most universities in this country won’t still be systematically engineered to ensnare students into as much debt as possible and keep them paying off their student loans for the rest of their lives. For these millions of students seeking brighter futures at community colleges, we need bold and transformative change and renewed public investment to ensure they have college options that are both affordable and of high quality. The top 15 percent of graduates at each high school can receive free two-year tuition from the Stars program, while the Obama plan is open to anyone, including adults. “Ten years from now, twenty years from now,” he said, “we’re going to look back and say, ‘You mean there was a time when community colleges weren’t available to everyone?’” Thomas Bailey is director of the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University and co-author of the forthcoming Redesigning America’s Community Colleges (Harvard University Press, 2015). Two free years of community college or not, there will always be students out there who want to get the best education they can, and that will mean at some point, going to more expensive universities.

Fundamentally, there are some things you will never be able to learn online; there are some experiences you will never be able to have outside of the classroom, as the social component of college is lacking in online education. Providing higher learning for everyone also means providing access to education which will get students headed towards college in the first place, no matter what their socioeconomic background is. This can seem impossible, especially when you take into account parental involvement; for a student to want to achieve at school, they have to be pushed to achieve at home first.

But the next generation of Americans will never instill that belief in their own children if we don’t start getting students ready for higher leading while they’re still in high school.

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