The Freedom of College Community

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1. The issues about costs of higher education and their have an impact on on the level of post-school education among younger people of appropriate age have long been circulated amongst the public and the policy makers. Finally they took form of the proposal delivered by the Obama Administration that community colleges be free for all students. The urgency of the notion is prompted by statistic pointing out that while about 60% of present day and future job positions will require some kind of college degree, only 40% of working-age adults will have the required education and skills. The gap between professional demand and supply needs to be filled as soon and efficient as possible. However, critics of the proposal introduce many considerations that aim to undermine the validity of free community college education as the turnkey solution. Both approaches rely on viable arguments supported by scholarly studies and statistics, yet only one path can lead to desired outcome.

2. To begin with, there is no clear opposition between those who argue for free community college and those who challenge cost-free education. Rather, there is a camp of researchers and politicians who support granting free education to all students, and a camp maintaining that free education should be granted individually on the basis of income assessment and other factors. Their argumentation overlaps on some aspects that will be discussed further, and this combined approach seems to be the most viable.

Proponent of free community college argue that the market of job positions is already lacking the necessary supply of applicants that have necessary skills. Along with freshmen right from schools, millions of adults who cannot find a job without acquiring additional skills pursue training and retraining in community colleges and 4-year institutions (Herk & Wyner, n/p). Demand for post secondary education is on the rise and it does not seem to face decline in any visible future. Automation is predicted to oust most menial jobs, and knowledge-based highly skilled professions will appear instead. Although job market predictions are blurry and refer to indefinite time, today it is hardly possible to find a well-paid and promising job that does not require a degree. So the first argument in support of free community college is that the nation should invest into its human capital in order to keep up with the growing competition in global markets and with new demands posed by automation and digitalizing of the world (Herk & Wyner, n/p). From this point of view this state funding is not a mere throwing money down the drain. It is a careful investment that will bring nation-wide revenues of incomparably high level. As the research suggests, at the beginning of the 20th century only every tenth American managed to get higher education (Herk & Wyner, n/p). As the level of people who could afford college grew, the critical mass of people appeared who ensured propelling America forward and making it a leading nation that sets the standard for the whole world. NASA, medical research, computer technologies in their current form became possible because the number of people with degrees grew exponentially through 60s and 70s (Herk & Wyner, n/p). Hence viewing state support for free community colleges is definitely an investment which value and prospects would appeal even to most critical investors.

Next argument naturally flows from the first one. Community colleges (and not all colleges across the country) are selected as assistance recipients because they cater to the most vulnerable layers of population. Even with the price being about $3,000 per year, which is rather modest, many families still did not view college as an option for their school leaving kids because of the tuition fees (Ng, n/p). Free 2-year college encourages more potential students from price-sensitive population group to become first-generation college degree holders. Pell grants would cover most parts of college tuition, yet the remaining price tags repelled poor families from pursuing college degree. Free college can definitely change this situation. In Tennessee the bill for free community colleges was adopted in 2014, and the next year witnessed significant increase in enrollment figures (Herk & Wyner, n/p). Drop out and graduation rates were not so bright, yet they can be explained by factors also linked to financial aid potentially granted by the federal government.

Next argument counters the idea promoted by opponents of free college bill, namely, that tuition should be covered only for selected courses. The idea that investment should be made only into majors that guarantee high-salary job in the future is invalid because of the speed with which the world changes. Last two decades saw more drastic changes in science, technology and the way people live than the whole second half of the 20th century. Today it is impossible to predict what profession or major will be in demand and what students will need retraining. Judging the prospects of a certain major from current point of view is senseless, so selecting majors to be sponsored simply leaves many gifted students with unconventional aspirations on the roadside, thus potentially curbing their contribution in the future.

The last argument is that income assessment also makes little sense, because students who can afford 4-year colleges are already there and they will not trade their studies for 2-year community college (Herk & Wyner, n/p). Instead students who are eligible for tuition compensation may be afraid to apply for college because of fear that upon some changes in their income status this assistance can be withdrawn. Usually assistance based on income evaluation is connected to many limiting and prohibiting conditions, and students who work but want to pursue education instead may be not eligible precisely because they work (Ng, n/p). If community college is to be free, it should be free for everyone, with no bottom line arrangements and obstacles.

Opponents of free community college have their say in the dispute and also approach the issue from different points of view. First, the additional burden on the federal budget will be about $60 billion spread across ten years (Ng, n/p). This much spending without palpable and measurable results will hit both taxpayers pockets and minds as unreasonable and populist move. Following arguments are complementing the ones forwarded by proponents of free community college. Tuitions in community colleges are low enough to attract about 40% of the US school graduates (Ng, n/p). It is those who cannot afford even this low tuition that should be assisted. Hence income assessment is the best way to allocate funds properly. Otherwise middle-class students might choose to enter community colleges just to save on 2-year tuition fees while really disadvantaged students will not be accepted at all because of lack of places.

Only majors that carry real net value should be sponsored. If a student chooses a major that is unlikely to bring him or her real job with real salary, then he or she better start working right after school thus winning experience and saving money for college. So surveys and analysis should be conducted regularly in the regions to detect the demand trends across employers, and majors meeting this demand should be prioritized for funds assistance (Ng, n/p). This information should also be distributed among those looking for job opportunities or deciding over retraining so that they could also benefit from it.

A separate argument is about the rate of dropout among those who enroll for studies at community college. Indeed, only every 5th students successfully accomplished academic tasks and gets a degree in two or three years upon entering (Ng, n/p). As the research conducted in Europe indicated (Garibaldi et al., 702-703), free education reduced motivation among students to work persistently through higher education. To the contrary, American students report that paying for the degree motivated them to work harder because they felt that otherwise invested money will be spent in vain (Coleman, 348).

What unites these two opposing approaches is the idea that some unconditional financial aid should be provided to college students, and that this aid should be directed not only into tuition costs, but also into costs that are related to studies (Herk & Wyner: Ng). Namely, a student may pay a tuition that is comparatively low but get compensation of living costs, textbook prices and childcare services. High dropout rate is very often explained by the fact that students need to work to cover their living costs, and have little or no time for educational activities (Herk & Wyner, n/p). Colleges that already implement this initiative, like Saint Mary College in Omaha, report higher attendance rates and increase in rates among students who receive this non-tuition help (Herk & Wyner, n/p).

3. What flows from the discussed above is that free community colleges do provide a chance to bridge the gap between demand and supply on the job market. However, deciding who and why would get that help significantly reduces benefits that will be visible in future. Students need to have equal access to free community colleges with reservation that they may ask for help to be transferred to cover non-tuition costs, like housing and learning materials. Free college encourages young people to pursue higher education, and availability of non-tuition financial help motivates students to work harder to get through and graduate successfully. This motivation is equal to motivation of paying students who study hard because they have paid for it. The only difference is that these questioned students who pay are able to pay anyway, and those receiving assistance would not be able to enroll without this help. So for the sake of making education accessible and really expanding the job horizons for both employers and future employees community colleges should be free with assistance available other for tuition or for related living costs.

Works Cited

Coleman, Martin D. 'Sunk Cost, Emotion, and Commitment to Education.' Current Psychology. November 26, 2010, Volume 29, Issue 4, pp 346–356. Retrieved in electronic form from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs12144-010-9094-6#/page-1

Garibaldi, Pietro; Giavazzi, Francesco; Ichino, Andrea, and Enrico Rettore. 'College Cost and Time to Complete a Degree: Evidence from Tuition Discontinuities.' The Review of Economics and Statistics. August 2012, Vol. 94, No. 3, Pages: 699-711.

Herk, Monica, and Joshua Wyner. 'Should Community Colleges Be Tuition-Free?' The Wall Street Journal. September 15, 2015, retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/articles/should-community-colleges-be-tuition-free-1442368892

Ng, Chenny. 'Free Tuition Won’t Help Students. These Investments In Community Colleges Will.' The Washington Post, November 13, 2015. Web. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/free-tuition-wont-help-students-these-investments-in-community-colleges-will/2015/11/13/a815ca1e-8989-11e5-be8b-1ae2e4f50f76_story.html?utm_term=.f82856cbd9e8

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