Over the past year, President Obama has been pushing a proposal that would guarantee two free years of community college, at least as far as tuition and fees are concerned, for students across the country. There are a lot of good reasons to question his plan, but a report from the American Action Forum makes it plain how poorly thought out the proposal is. From The Washington Free Beacon:
President Barack Obama’s free college proposal would spend $36 billion on 5.4 million students who will likely never receive a college degree, according to a report from the American Action Forum.
The proposal includes $60 billion for schools to provide two years of “free” postsecondary education to students at community colleges. The report notes this sum would only cover the cost of tuition and fees, not the full cost of attendance.
As the report itself explains, this chart displaying six year outcomes for community college students from the National Student Clearing House is particularly damning:
In other words, roughly 39% of students at two-year public community colleges never actually complete their degrees. In addition to the federal costs, the report details how much this will cost states to find out just how much of a cash drain this will be on government coffers (emphasis mine):
Add the share of the $20 billion that states would be required to invest on top of the federal match and the total potential loss on an $80 billion federal and state investment could be close to $48 billion.
As the report also notes, there is a very real problem with under-matching in higher education, which is the phenomenon of qualified students from poorer households choosing community colleges over four-year institutions. Despite Obama’s professed interest in ending this, his free community college proposal would seemingly only encourage it. Even the left-leaning Brookings Institute has called him out on it. The report also savages him over it, basically saying that Obama’s proposal does nothing to fix the problem:
The under-matching issue is particularly salient because it suggests free college is highly inconsistent with existing federal education policy. For years, Congress and the Department of Education have pursued efforts to facilitate and improve consumer choice by stressing the need for cost calculators and ratings systems so that potential students can make decisions that best fit their unique circumstances. They have encouraged shopping for schools and programs, mindfulness towards things like graduation and attrition rates, and to make academic major and career decisions based on wages and future employment prospects.
The current free community college proposals effectively throw nearly all of this by the wayside with incentives for students to enroll in institutions with the highest attrition rates, some of the lowest wage curves and the greatest unemployment variability of any post-high school training institution.
So, once again, the Obama administration is pushing for an idea that will not actually fix the problem and end up wasting a lot of federal and state government money. That’s basically the same thing his administration did with Obamacare, and Chad Miller, one of the report’s authors, acknowledges this. He told the Free Beacon, “The last thing our country needs right now is another program like Obamacare, and that is in effect what the free college program would be.”
Why is the President doing this? The simple answer is that he is looking for an easy way to keep young voters in the Democratic fold once he is gone. If a Republican has the audacity to challenge the idea, it would be incredibly easy for Democrats to vilify them as hating both college students and education, even though this program does nothing to fix the problem and spends money on yet another ill-advised plan. There are much better solutions to the problems mentioned in the report, and this is one place where Republicans, both in Congress and those running for President, need to be active.