In order to maintain the United States’ leadership position in our global economy, President Barack Obama proposed reforming our community colleges in hope of providing Americans the chance to learn the skills and knowledge necessary to compete for jobs. His proposal, the American Graduation Initiative, would allow an additional five million people who meet the requirements to graduate from a community college by 2020.
This is a big deal for college-aged Americans hoping to earn a degree, but others are affected as well. The American Graduation Initiative is projected to cost $12 billion. Funding needs to go toward expanding the size of campuses, the number of classrooms, the number of professors who need to be paid and the supplies and resources the colleges provide to students, such as computer labs suitable for a large number of students. To obtain this $12 billion, Obama plans to increase the maximum Pell grant and education tax credits to ease financial pressure on students.
According to whitehouse.gov, The Recovery Act is Obama’s plan to cushion the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression and lay a new foundation for economic growth. The American Association of Community Colleges published a fact sheet on the initiative which states, “The Recovery Act increased Pell Grants by $500 to $5,350 and created the $2,500 American Opportunity Tax Credit for four years of college tuition. Now, the Administration is working to make these policies permanent and ensure the Pell Grant continues to grow faster than inflation. Together, the Recovery Act and president’s budget call for nearly $200 billion in college scholarships and tax credits over the next decade.”
Emily Bussman, a freshman at Rowan College at Gloucester County, believes that although community college will be free, it won’t change whether people are motivated to earn a degree. “If they aren’t motivated, money won’t change their own personal mindset,” she says.
According to The Hechinger Report, a publication covering innovation and inequality in education, only one in five students who enroll in community college graduates in three years. Lack of motivation from students pushed the United States from first to 10th in the world in proportion of the population that has graduated from college.
“I think it’s great Obama wants to offer potential students the opportunity to go to community college for free, but that doesn’t change the fact that there aren’t jobs available for them to fill after they graduate,” says Sarah Hoffman, a sophomore at Raritan Valley Community College in Somerset County, NJ. “I’m stressed over the idea that even though I put in the time and effort to earn a degree, that doesn’t guarantee me a job. Allowing anyone to earn his or her degree will just mean the value of a degree is basically worthless.”
U.S. Rep Virginia Foxx, who chairs the White House higher-education subcommittee, questioned Obama’s graduation goals. “A college degree doesn’t do any good if there aren’t any jobs. I think it’s important that people finish college, but the major reason people go to college is to get a job. I think the president should be focusing a whole lot more on creating an environment that allows for job creation,” says Foxx.
Another aspect to look at is how this affects those who are already in college and paid to get there. Greg Demkowicz, owner of Correct Electric, LLC. in Washington, NJ, believes this will harm the classroom environment for current students.
“The GPA requirements of students to maintain free education are low. Instead of focusing on the students who truly want to study hard and succeed, we will be providing a subsidy for those with less motivation and initiative. Having a bunch of people with degrees by 2020 does nothing for the students or the country. Obama needs to focus on making students smarter. That’s what our country should be striving for by 2020,” says Demkowicz. “This is a slap in the face of all the students who paid for their education. These students, with the desire to learn and succeed, will be placed in the same class as those receiving the subsidy, who may only be there because it’s free. Are the professors going to have to dumb down lectures just so the unmotivated students pass the course? Great. Now the students who truly want to learn will not be able to reach their potential because the lecture didn’t challenge them.”
President Obama is paving the road for future college students with good intentions, but, according to critics of the plan, further research should be done on the adverse effects before laying the pavement.