Coming to a school near you: Free college

President Obama recently proposed free tuition for community college students.

MCCC President Kojo Quartey said he is hopeful, yet cautious, about the proposal, which has many unanswered questions surrounding it.

Quartey recently wrote an article on his blog in response to Obama’s proposal.

“The short answer to this question [am I excited about the plan] is that we do not have all the needed details because they have not been fleshed out, but I am cautiously optimistic,” wrote Quartey.

As President Obama’s term is nearing its end, he is attempting to leave another mark on the nation by proposing a free community college education to students.

On Jan. 9, Obama first outlined his idea while speaking at Pellissippi State Community College in Tennessee, a college which recently implemented a proposal much like the president’s.

Obama’s proposal says that students would be eligible for free community college tuition for two years.

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, this would save students an average of $3,800 in tuition per year.

The outline of the proposal says that students will be able to receive free two-year tuition. But they would  need to keep a 2.5 GPA, and would have to enroll in academic programs that could transfer to a four-year university or trade school.

At first glance, the proposal seems like a weight lifted off the shoulders of college students. However, it has been met with many questions that remain unanswered as of now.

Quartey raised questions and concerns of his own.

Will this really benefit the most needy and at risk students? Where will the funding come from? Would this help or harm higher education institutions? Would some institutions receive more funding based on government evaluations? What happens if students do not meet the restrictions?

Quartey is concerned whether this proposal will truly help the students who need it most.

“The neediest students are the ones who already have access to Pell Grants and to other forms of financial aid. So this is going to benefit students who may not be the most needy,” Quartey said.

One of Quartey’s biggest questions and reservations about the proposal comes from not knowing where the funding will come from.

Free tuition might be appealing to students, but does the “free” part of the proposal take in account the costs of books, lab fees, and other additional costs?

“Will there be just enough funding for tuition, or will there be additional funding to provide for books and all other auxillary benefits?” questioned Quartey.

Also, would free tuition mean that additional funding from the states for other entities be cut off?

There is no question that free tuition would cause an increase in enrollment, even for MCCC, which  has seen consistent enrollment decreases over the last few years.

“This would certainly cause enrollment to go up,” Quartey said.

Another concern is the way the federal government evaluates community college success based on the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

It is not an accurate measurement, Quarty said. IPEDS only accounts for students who begin classes in the fall, are enrolled full time, and begin as a freshman. In his article, Quartey explains the misconstrued graduation rate of students after two years at a community college.

The statistic says that after two years only 21% of students graduate.

“Because many of our students transfer to fouryear institutions without actually earning a two-year degree,” wrote Quartey.

If the proposal grants more funding to institutions with greater success on an inaccurate system, would this really benefit the students?

Community colleges around the nation have developed a new success measurement system known as Voluntary Framework of Accountability.

“The VFA is a series of metrics and measurements that community colleges, together, have come up with which is a better indication of what we do, and what we do best,” said Quartey.

The VFA uses the measurements differently than IPEDS. It uses metrics in terms of what kind of students community colleges admit, students who may be enrolled in remedial courses, and the successes the institutions have with those students.

“The VFA is a better measure of what we do as community colleges,” said Quartey.

What happens to students who are unable to meet the GPA requirement? 

For students’ classes to transfer to a four-year institution, a grade of a C or above is to be earned. However, a student receiving all C’s in enrolled courses would still manage to earn a 2.0 GPA. Does this mean that asking for a 2.5 average is asking too much of students?

“If you set high standards for students they will meet them, but my concern is that at these institutions, that is not how we measure success,”  Quartey said. “This sets a higher standards for students.”

It is no secret that many students struggle to afford to pay for college, and that college tuition costs have been increasing over the years. Which makes many people pose the questions: Should at least a two-year education be a right for students?

“For a community college to be viable, it needs the tuition funds. So as long as that tuition is being met by some other entities, either by the federal government, the state government, or property taxes, then I have no problem with community college education being free,” said Quartey.

“Everyone deserves the opportunity to get an education beyond a high school level.”

Obama’s proposal for free tuition is one that would help many students, but it is simply an idea with many kinks that have yet to be worked out.

Still, Quartey remains hopeful.

“There are so many questions that we do not have the answers to. I think it’s a great idea, great for conversation, great to look into, but I think it’s going to face a lot of opposition,” he said.

There is little information that is known, and many questions that need to be answered surrounding the new proposal. However, whether tuition is free to students or not, Quartey still believes that community colleges have something to offer to all students.

“It is a commendable ides, every American deserves the opportunity to get an education if they so desire.”