The President’s remarks on his free community college proposal didn’t address the concerns raised by higher-ed analysts; in fact, it simply created new ones. When he initially unveiled the plan, President Obama stated that free community college would be limited to students who maintain a 2.5 GPA and make good progress towards completing their degrees. However, in his address tonight he expressed a desire to make “two years of college…as free and universal in America as high school is today.” This statement raises the possibility that the federal government will eventually scrap the plan’s already minimal eligibility criteria, which would lead to many more enrollees and a higher price tag for taxpayers.
Moreover, the President failed to acknowledge his plan’s very real drawbacks. He stated that “forty percent of our college students choose community college” but didn’t note community college students’ abysmal graduation rates. On a related note, he failed to detail accountability measures that would force schools receiving the new federal subsidy to improve student outcomes. This omission suggests that the President is relatively uninterested in improving community colleges before he directs more students to enroll. Without any such improvement, however, the President’s plan will likely hurt those he’s trying to help.