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Approved: White House Proposal for Universal Access to College

January 12, 2015 at 1:00 AM

President Obama has announced a plan that would pay for 100% of the tuition for anyone who wants to attend a community college and can commit to remain on course to graduate from the two-year program in three years and maintain a 2.5 grade point average.

Essentially this proposal would extend our nation’s universal education system from K-12 to K-Associate’s Degree. I seriously Approve.

We all know that a high school degree is not enough to succeed in our globally competitive world, yet we also know from the obscene levels of student debt, that the cost of a four-year degree is far too steep for many. One of the key provisions of the proposal in my opinion is that to participate a community college would have to ensure its credits are transferable to a four-year school. So if this proposal was passed it would effectively reduce the cost of a four-year degree, as students with a community college degree could then leverage that by needing less than four years to continue on and complete a bachelor’s degree.

Not only could this community college proposal reduce the cost of obtaining a four-year degree, there is also a significant earnings power argument to create universal community college coverage.

In 2013 the median weekly wages (NOTE: LINK IS TO BLS WAGE DATA BY EDUCATION LEVEL) for someone with a two-year associate’s degree from a community college or vocational school was 20% higher than the weekly wage of a high school grad. Talk about a return on investment for students if this new proposal was approved: Get a degree from a community college for free, and make 20% more on average than if you just stopped with the high school diploma. The biggest payoff is if the community college grad then continues on to get a bachelor’s degree: median weekly wages for workers with a bachelor’s degree is about 40% higher than wages for the community-college grad, and 70% higher than the pay a high school grade can expect.

Yes, I realize this proposal has little chance of making much headway in a Republican controlled Congress. And there may be state pushback as well, given that this proposal calls for states to cover 25% of the cost after the federal government picks up 75% of the tab. There’s also the issue of supply and demand. More demand for community college classes without increasing community college budgets will exacerbate an all-too-common problem: not enough classes and teachers to accommodate student demand, forcing students onto wait lists for the next semester or beyond. But I applaud the White House for putting it on the agenda; and you never know, it may spur some compromise that increases accessibility to higher education. That’s a big win.

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