Obama has ideas for more accessible post-secondary education

By Sydney Dauphinais, Staff Writer

As a freshman in high school, college seems to be pretty far off in the distance- however, the closer graduation gets, the question slowly begins to arise: What are you planning to do after senior year?

Of course, there are plenty of options, and unfortunately, some come with a price tag that will make you cringe. If post secondary education is making its way into your future, things could be looking up in terms of finances. President Obama recently pitched his latest idea; he wants to make two years of community college free to responsible students who are willing to work for the opportunity.

“This isn’t a blank check. It’s not a free lunch,” Obama said to a crowd of several hundred students and faculty members of Pellissippi State Community College. “But for those who are willing to do the work, and states that want to be a part of this, it can be a game-changer.”

His plan, which has yet to be introduced to Congress, is to donate approximately $60 billion dollars within the next decade to students going to school at least half-time, balancing out to about $6 billion dollars a year. Federal government would be paying around 75% of the tuition and fees, and participating states would cover the rest of the cost. The students must maintain a 2.5 grade point average and be on track to complete their program of choice or transfer to a 4 year school.  For the students of highest need, Pell grants would cover the cost of transportation and other fees.

Just hours prior to President Obama’s announcement made in Knoxville, Tennessee, the most recent employment rates were released. As promising and impressive as these numbers were (with a refreshingly low unemployment rate of 5.6%, standing as the lowest yet since the end of the recession), unequivocal gaps were present. People with a high school diploma alone had an unemployment rate of 5.3%, while those with a bachelor’s degree had an unemployment rate of only 2.9%– leaving over a full 2% difference between the two.

“Now that we’ve seen calmer waters economically,” Obama said, “if we all do our part, if we all pitch in, then we can start making sure that… wages and incomes start rising again. We can make sure that the middle class is the engine that powers America’s prosperity just as it always has.”

On average, those who obtain a bachelor degree make 50% more than those without. The goal is to make community college as common as high school is now, which would make obtaining a bachelor’s degree a practical option for more people.

As many opportunities that accessible post secondary education would bring in an increasingly competitive world, $6 billion a year is still a pretty hefty investment- and with a Republican controlled Congress, some people have serious doubts that President Obama’s plan will ever be put into action. However, with the numbers and statistics being as indisputable as they are, a possible negotiation from Congressional Republicans may be in the near future.

Tennessee State Governor Republican Bill Haslam states that while Democrats and Republicans may disagree on how to approach income inequality, they can agree that community colleges are vital to economic growth.

“A college degree is the surest ticket to the middle class,” Obama said to the crowd. “It is the key to getting a good job that pays a good income…it ensures you’re always employable,”

The White House declined to provide more details about the proposal, which the President said he’ll highlight again during his upcoming State of the Union address. Hopefully, he will hash out the details for the public before Congress makes a final decision on the matter.