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More information, not just free school, will grow college attendance

Jackson Poe

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Obama’s plan for a free community college education to all qualifying high school graduates sounds great. A high school education is not enough to progress in the workforce anymore. A two-year degree can launch a career rather than a job. Making community college free would strengthen the American workforce and middle-class.

All of these arguments are sound. But making community college free is not the best answer. It might be the easy answer, but certainly not the best.

Most importantly, money is not the problem for most high school graduates deciding on college. The average annual community college tuition is $4,000. Taken from Shelton State’s website, the total annual cost of tuition and fees based on 15 credit hours per semester is $3,960. That means an entire two-year degree at Shelton can be completed for $7,920.

The maximum award for a Pell Grant is around $6,000 annually. For those unfamiliar with Pell Grants, they are federally-funded need-based awards that do not have to be paid back. This means students with the most need are eligible to receive $2,000 more per year than the average cost of tuition and fees at community colleges. This is money that does not have to be paid back and does not even include scholarships, work-study programs or loans.

The program would not help these students. Even for students who are not eligible for the full or even any Pell Grants, this program wouldn’t be of much help. If a student does not value a community college education that is only $2,000 a semester, will they really value a free education? Students must see the benefit of community college. They must see that the price is very small compared to the return.

The problem is the lack of information high school students have about community college, which fosters a lack of motivation. Free community college sounds great, but if students do not know why they should go and place value in it, they will probably not attend. Instead of offering free community college the government should use the money to inform high school students of the benefits of a two-year degree.

High school students need to know that students from all kinds of backgrounds with all kinds of academic abilities can succeed in community college. They need to know college is not structured like high school and that they can find something they are genuinely interested in and pursue it. They need to know they can take these interests and turn them into valuable skills that lead to a career instead of just another job. They need to know community colleges are not second-tier to four-year universities. They need to know they can do well at community college and earn scholarships to four-year schools.

Once students know the details of why they should go to community college, the motivation will come. Every high school student will want to pursue community college.

This plan will get high school students excited about education and is what will eventually “strengthen the U.S. workforce,” as Obama said.

Providing free community college does not solve the bigger problem.

Informing students about community college and showing them the benefits is empowering. A large number of students will not start attending community college because it is free. Students will only start attending when they know the benefits and decide on their own.

Jackson Poe is a junior majoring in finance and accounting. His column runs biweekly.

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More information, not just free school, will grow college attendance