The White House claimed last week that President Barack Obama’s proposed “free” community college for everyone proposal would cost U.S. taxpayers at least $60 billion over the next 10 years were it to pass. But as the New York Times pointed out on Friday, community college is already tuition-free for millions of students.
“Community college is already tuition-free for many students around the country, because the federal Pell grants for low-and middle-income students cover up to $5,730 a year, and some states add their own grants, while the national average for full-time community college tuition and fees is $3,427,” reports the New York Times.
The Times adds, “When Pell grants exceed tuition, students can use the remainder for other costs like books, supplies and room and board.”
Despite the fact that Pell grants make community college free for millions of low-and middle-income students, some higher education scholars say Obama’s proposal will serve as good “publicity” to inform unaware prospective community college students that tuition is already free.
“It’s easy enough to say that Pell grants, in most states, cover the whole cost of tuition for eligible students, but I think a lot of students don’t realize that,” Thomas Bailey, director of the Community College Research Center at Columbia University told the Times. “So the publicity, and raising the profile as this announcement may do, is important in getting out the word that the cost of tuition isn’t standing in the way of going to college.”
Obama’s plan, which was modeled on Tennessee’s plan, faces other hurdles beyond the Pell grant redundancy. Indeed, even Democrats like Tennessee state Representative Steve Cohen — an architect of Tennessee’s HOPE college program — has blasted Obama’s “free” community college plan.
“He shouldn’t be holding Tennessee Promise out as a model because it’s not a model; it’s a facade to cover up what is a dying system that hasn’t been funded,” said Cohen.
The core problem with Obama’s proposal, say experts, is that it focuses on cost, not the “dismal graduation rates” community colleges produce.
Obama is expected to sell his “free” $60 billion community college plan in his upcoming State of the Union Address.