Home Opinion Editorial Editorial: Can free community college proposal make a difference?

Editorial: Can free community college proposal make a difference?


An associate’s degree is the new high school diploma. It’s common knowledge that to get a good job these days a candidate must have a college degree.
If this is true, why does enrollment keep dropping at Grand Rapids Community College?

Tuition was raised 2.9 percent this past fall and the proposed budget for next year contains a hike in the culinary, dental and nursing programs. This “tiered tuition” is explained as a way to bring in more revenue, for the more expensive classes, while remaining considerably cheaper than most options.

Administrators, tasked with creating the budget, project what they think the enrollment numbers will be each semester and somehow those numbers continue to be lower than expected. There are plenty of reasons behind the low numbers, chief among them is the improving economy.

The average age of a student at GRCC is 24.7, according to the GRCC 2014 Enrollment Report. This means that there are many non-traditional students roaming the halls and taking a semester, or multiple semesters, off here and there, either because they found a good paying job, waited too long to sign up and the class they wanted was full or cancelled due to low enrollment, or they didn’t have the time or money. The list goes on and on.

This isn’t only bad for GRCC, but the whole country.

There could be a solution. President Obama’s “free college” proposal would offer anyone, willing to follow certain guidelines, two years of free community college. This would essentially extend the K-12 public school system an extra two years.

Let’s put aside the fact that the bill is going to have a rough time getting through a republican controlled congress and imagine what that would mean to the United States.

According to a 2013 report from The Program for International Student Assessment, the U.S. is outside the top 20 countries in reading, math and science, among 15-year-olds, with math being the main problem area. The U.S. is considered “average” in reading and science. There are no similar reports on college students, but one can guess how this learning trend will continue.

Obama’s proposal would give students an extra two years to continue their studies, free of charge.

The fact that it is free could be the most important part. A lot of students who attend community college are strapped for cash to begin with and might use financial troubles as an excuse to drop out.

And what about student loans? It’s terrifying to think about the kind of debt that a recent college graduate can end up with. Community college is less expensive than universities, but still not cheap by any stretch of the imagination and if someone wants to pursue a bachelor’s degree after achieving their associates, their debt will go up exponentially.

This plan will not make student loans go away, but if students don’t have to worry about the first half of their education, the burden can be greatly reduced.

What we need to do now is call for government leaders to put aside their differences and imagine how much greater this country could be if more people had a chance to receive higher education without having to pay back the equivalent of a mortgage.

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