The American College Promise

Victoria Zawitkowski
Staff Columnist

Illustration by Douglas Fuchs

Education is of utmost importance for the future of the United States, but it is also one of the most expensive routes for U.S. citizens to pursue. President Barack Obama recently announced his plan to make the first two years of community college free for students with good grade point averages. Students who have the desire to obtain a college education deserve either minimal cost or even free education.

Obama’s plan would fund community college for states willing to put up 25 percent of the costs. While that would still leave the federal government with what the White House said would be $60 billion dollars over 10 years, students’ education is the best investment for our country.

The disparity between the rise in minimum wage and the inflation of college tuition has forced students to fall into $1.4 million in student loan debt in the pursuit of higher education. Since 1985, minimum wage has only increased by 140 percent, while tuition has increased by 500 percent. The average working citizen cannot easily afford living on minimum wage, much less paying thousands in tuition costs, which is important because most people saving for college work for minimum wage.

Our country has been focused on the creation of jobs. If citizens lack the skills required to fill those jobs, however, then the efforts are useless. A college degree is now as expected as a high school diploma. In his State of the Union address, Obama reiterated this point by saying that at the end of this decade, two out of three jobs will require some form of higher education.

Tennessee has already created its own program to make community college free. In the Republican-led state, students were required to maintain a 2.0 GPA, prove they were residents of the state and do eight hours of community service every semester.

Obama’s program, dubbed the American College Promise, would waive tuition costs for students with at least a 2.5 GPA, attending at least part-time and working toward a two or four-year degree.

The cost of this program is likely to keep it from Congressional approval and yet it would greatly reduce student debt and the skill gap that exists in the job market. In his address, Obama said around 40 percent of U.S. students attend community college. The White House estimates 9 million students would benefit from this type of program.

Increasing the number of students who receive higher education would not only yield a more informed and skilled class of people, but it would result in a greater economic output. Making education more affordable and even free for those who have shown academic promise can only be a positive thing for the U.S.

An analysis from the 2012 presidential economic report found that a 2 percent increase in the number of people with an associate’s degree and a 1 percent increase in the number of people with a bachelor’s degree would put $20 billion back into our economy. Every dollar spent on education is a worthy investment.

Many students are not eligible for the limited number of scholarships and grants that are available. Despite maintaining good grades, some students fall just outside of the requirements to receive federal financial aid. Students and their families are then forced to pay tuition out of pocket. Otherwise, students have to work to save the money for school—which could take a long time—or work while they are in school, which diverts their attention away from their studies.

Education should ultimately be free for every student who works for it. Obama’s plan for free community college would better the country as a whole and save students from massive debt.

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