Why The Free Community College Proposal Is Worth Talking About

tuition reimbursement

Word came out last week that the Obama administration will propose a new program that effectively makes community college free. Upon hearing this, I knew that a hailstorm of opinions, accusations, doubts and fury would soon follow. Boy was I right!

Who's Talking About the Free Community College Proposal?

Pundits on the left hailed the potential initiative as a landmark opportunity for education in the US. They believe the plan would provide a solution to the massive student debt crisis affecting Americans today and solve college retention issues in the process.

Meanwhile, those on the right have immediately come out swinging, providing 99 reasons why a plan like this would not work. "The burden of paying for this will fall on the taxpayer," they say. "Who is going to pay for the nearly $6 billion dollar initiative?"

Employers are wondering if a plan like this will allow them to invest more in their employees' educations, knowing that the first two years (60 credits) are already covered.

Finally, there's the mixed reaction from those that work in higher ed. College presidents, deans, provosts and enrollment managers from every type of school in the country have weighed in, equally divided over what the benefit/harm would be of implementing such a program. Not surprisingly, their opinions are based solely on the impact to the type of institution in which they work. Will private colleges and for-profit schools go out of business if everyone has access to two years of community college? Will students be less inclined to pursue Bachelor's or Master's degrees because they already have "college" under their belt?

Anyone missing? Ah, yes...the actual STUDENT. Students want to know if this proposed program would solve the student debt crisis they're sure to face otherwise. According to a report by the Labor Department, the cost of tuition has gone up 1200% in the last 25 years. That's double the cost of healthcare and six times the cost of food in that same time frame.

increasing tuition rates

Let's Discuss, Not Denounce

Regardless of where you stand on this proposal, this discussion needs to happen. We can't lament the cost of education in one breath and use the next to discourage finding a solution. I'm not saying Obama's free community college plan is the right solution... but then again, I'm not saying that it is not. This type of program has already been implemented at the state level in Tennessee, as well as within certain cities like Chicago.

I hope we continue the dialogue, do our due diligence, and not accept the status quo. If we truly value education and believe that students need to be better educated to hold the jobs of the future  and understand that cost shouldn't be the only factor in a student's choices  this discussion needs to occur. The only way to get to any solution, from the left, right, or in between, is by starting the conversation.

Written by: Bright Horizons Blog Editor

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The Bright Horizons Blog Editor frequently posts on the real solutions that meaningfully support employees, advance careers, and drive the world’s leading brands. The Editor curates the latest news, trends, and challenges facing HR pros because your time is scarce. Follow the Bright Horizons Blog to receive this insight in your inbox.