The January 29, 2015 edition of the Campus Ledger contained an editorial praising Barack Obama’s idea for free community college tuition for two years. I wholeheartedly disagree. If this idea were put in place, it would be a complete game-changer, and not in a good way.
Four-year institutions would see their enrollment drop by half. Why should I pay for two years at KU if I can go to JCCC for “free”? The larger schools may be able to absorb the losses in student bodies, and in federal or state aid that most post-secondary schools receive. But some smaller schools could not and would be forced to close their doors permanently.
The various vocational and technical schools would also be hurt, largely for the same reasons as stated above. Why should I enroll in a vo-tech program if Obama is paying for community college? Forget that a Pell grant might pay for my enrollment in that program. And forget that I wanted to drive a Kenworth before the word “free” convinced me to enroll at JCCC.
I see this as pure hell for all community colleges, not just JCCC. Thousands more freshmen will suddenly descend on our campus. Enrollment, online and on campus, could double overnight. It would be more bodies and more tuition revenue. But could JCCC’s current facilities handle the extra load? A freshman-level class at KU may have 500 students and be held in a large auditorium. Those having trouble would speak with a graduate assistant, not the professor. Most classes at JCCC have less than 30 students. Those having a problem are encouraged to contact the instructor directly. It’s a much better situation that could disappear because of “free” tuition.
Some of those students would go to another institution if JCCC wasn’t suddenly “free.” For engineering students, JCCC may need to hire another higher-math instructor. Others in that group may barely graduate high school and would not be ready for the next level. To accommodate them, JCCC may have to establish, for example, remedial English classes for those who do not have the reading or writing skills necessary for English Comp I.
If JCCC and other community colleges were suddenly “free,” I’d like to ask who would be paying for it. It would be you and me. It would be our parents, extended family, friends, basically every taxpayer in this country, in the form of still another tax increase. That alone makes me question the wisdom of Obama’s idea, since a tax hike on a slowly recovering economy will only slow the economy down again.
There are parts of this economy that are broken. The community college system is not one of them. It does not need fixing.