President Obama’s “free” community college proposal could hurt disadvantaged students, I write on U.S. News.
Most lower-income students already pay no tuition. The “college is free” message could encourage more to enroll — but what happens when they get there? These students need remediation and counseling to have any chance of success. Community colleges don’t have the funding to provide strong support services.
The promise of free tuition could make the problem worse by drawing more students to already crowded community college campuses, said Michele Siqueiros, president of The Campaign for College Opportunity.
“If states don’t spend more to increase capacity,” community colleges will end up with long waiting lists, Siqueiros said. Affordability doesn’t help if a student can’t get into the right class or find help figuring out what classes to take, she said.
California’s community colleges are free to about half the students and very low cost to the rest. But students have trouble getting the classes they need. Success rates are very low.
Tennessee is making community college free for recent high school graduates by paying whatever they owe after federal and state aid. Ninety percent of 12th graders have expressed interest. Attracting more middle-class students to community college could create more diverse campuses with better-prepared students.
However, the plan is a subsidy to middle-class parents — not a funding increase for community colleges.
Eduardo Porter writes on The Promise and Failure of Community Colleges in the New York Times. Key quote: “Community colleges have the students with the greatest problems — yet they get the least resources,” said Thomas Bailey, director of the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College. “It’s unrealistic to think we can have a better outcome without investing more money.”