Obama promises free college

By Kennedy Blevins

Earlier this year President Obama announced a proposal that sparked the interest of college students across the country: two years of free college education.

In his 2015 State of the Union address, Obama presented “America’s College Promise”, which proposed that two years of college education or job training be free for qualifying students who maintain a 2.5 grade point average or higher. If put into place, Obama stated that the first two years of college would be as free as K-12 education is today.

States who choose to participate will pay 25 percent of the budget cost and the federal government would cover the other 75 percent. Obama’s 2016 Fiscal Year budget shows a $3.6 billion increase in Department of Education funding, which includes funding for “America’s College Promise.”

But what does this mean for those of us who came in too late to capitalize on the benefits of Obama’s proposal? Not to worry, the plan would be beneficial to everyone, even those who won’t directly receive a free education.

A free two years of college education would allow students who keep their grades up to gain the skills they need to join the American job force. Obama’s plan benefits employers as well. Many jobs in America are left unfilled because Americans don’t have the skills necessary to fill them. “By the end of this decade, two in three job openings will require some higher education,” said Obama. An economy that employs more people benefits everyone in the long run. As a consumer economy, more people working means more people spending, which boost the American economy.

While Obama’s plan shows promise, he’ll have to manage to get it past Congress, in which both the House and Senate are majority Republican. Republicans generally support limited government, and currently, we’re looking at a majority Republican Congress, which could mean setbacks for “America’s College Promise”. While Congress wants to strengthen the education system, their plans are only effective in theory.

“Encouraging more individuals to pursue training or earn a college degree is a national priority and community colleges play a vital role in that effort. But make no mistake, the president is proposing yet another multi-billion dollar federal program that will compete with existing programs for limited taxpayer dollars,” stated Congressman John Klein, chairman of the house committee on education and the workforce. Republicans in Congress want to limit government spending in education, rather than add to the budget on taxpayers’ dime. While limits may look good on paper by putting money keeping the pockets of the American people, these limitations only prolong the investment in education, which will hurt the nation in the long run. Education reform is necessary.

Americans need a strengthened education system to make them competitive abroad. Obama plans to support education financially, educating future generations and making job opportunities more possible, which will strengthen our economy for years to come. Obama is proposing a short-term sacrifice for long-term results. Ignoring the long-term benefits of supporting education could mean disaster for the future of the United States’ competitiveness abroad.

Speaking with students and faculty on campus, there seemed to be a general agreement in favor of the bill, even when knowledge on how much it would cost taxpayers and what students would have to do, was limited.  “I agree with it. Your first two years are general ed, so why not get that out of the way for free?” said RCC student Yazmin Sprague.

“No one gets a free lunch,” said Monica Delgadillo, Riverside City College’s transfer center coordinator, when she commented in response to the plan, and she worries that once enacted, the bill would be far from what it’s intentional motives were.

If Congress manages to approve the budget it could mean big changes in a positive direction for America’s school system. The grade requirement would also reinforce to students the idea that they’re working towards a goal and raise the bar on education. It’s clear we have a long way to go before we have an unwavering opinion on the plan, but before we break down all the facets we have to look at the big picture.

At the end of the day, the goal of education is to create a strong workforce that can sustain the country. In the past, a K-12 education allowed many Americans to be competitive for middle class jobs. The reality of today’s world shows that this is not longer true. More skills than those offered at the high school level are needed for entry-level jobs. According to http://www.whitehouse.gov, “To prepare Americans for the jobs of the future and help restore middle-class security, we have to out-educate the world and that starts with a strong school system.” The only question in supporting “America’s College Promise” is: do we want a stronger economic future for America or not?