But the Brookings Institution apparently doesn't like that idea. Stuart M. Butler authored a piece for Brookings on President Obama's plan and offered these criticisms.
|Stuart M. Butler|
Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution
Of course this is true, but public K-12 education is also free to rich and poor alike; and I don't hear anyone complaining. And to suggest that rich kids would pass up elite institutions like Harvard to get a free education at a local community college is absurd.
Second, Mr. Butler argues that community college "is usually a dead end." Here, Mr. Butler stands on firmer ground. It is true that only a small percentage of community-college students obtain two-year degrees; and very few transfer into four-year colleges and eventually get bachelor's degrees.
Mr. Butler suggests that the federal government should "help states and school districts provide a fuller range of opportunities at the high school and college levels, such as professional credentials, apprenticeships and high-school career academies." Yes, of course; but President Obama's plan doesn't preclude other avenues for providing post-secondary education. In fact, I understood the President's free community-college proposal to incorporate more than just traditional academic programs.
Finally, Mr. Butler offers his flimsiest objection to President Obama's plan--that it might cause high-performing high-school students to "settle" for a free community-college education rather than apply to more elite institutions. Right--like a high school kid with a realistic chance of getting into the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, where Mr. Butler studied, would turn St. Andrews down to get free schooling at Alamo Community College in San Antonio.
So what does Mr. Butler suggest? He wants bigger Pell Grants that could be used at any institution, presumably meaning the expensive elite colleges where the Brookings Institution's policy wonks went to school, as well as the for-profit colleges that are ripping off low-income young Americans.
And Mr. Butler also wants President Obama to give "more enthusiastic backing to new, low-cost competitors to traditional colleges and universities." Duh, Mr. Butler. Community colleges are low-cost competitors to traditional colleges and universities.
Mr. Butler finished his Brookings puff piece with a flourish. "President Obama would be much wiser," Mr. Butler concluded, "to use his political capital to spur competition and real cost reduction in higher education rather than subsidizing community college education." Whatever that means.
In my view, President Obama articulated the germ of a good idea--two free years of postsecondary education at the nation's community colleges to anyone who is qualified to enroll. Of course, the community colleges need to do a much better job of matriculating their students; and the transfer of students from two-year institutions to four-year institutions needs to be made surer and more smooth.
The president calculated that his plan to offer a free community-college education would only cost the federal government about $6 billion a year--about one fifth of what the federal student-aid program is currently pumping into the for-profit college industry. If the federal government would stop propping up the for-profits and support community colleges, the public would actually save money--a lot of money.
On the other hand, if President Obama wants to offer free community-college education as a new feature to our present rickety student-aid program, then his proposal is merely a diversion from the hard task of reform . Unfortunately, I think the president wants to add a $6 billion free community-college plan to an out-of-control federal student aid program that already costs more than $100 billion a year..
Stuart M. Butler. Obama's SOTU Free College Plan is Bad for Poor Americans. Brookings Institution, January 20, 2015. Accessible at: http://www.brookings.edu/research/opinions/2015/01/20-obama-free-community-college-bad-idea-sotu-butler
Susan Dynarski and Daniel Kreisman. Loans for Equal Opportunity: Making Borrowing Work for Today's Students. Hamilton Project, Brookings Institution, October 2013. Accessible at: http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/papers/2013/10/21%20student%20loans%20dynarski/thp_dynarskidiscpaper_final.pdf