President Barack Obama's announcement on Friday that he wants to offer U.S. students two years of free community college has sparked a nationwide conversation about the pros and cons surrounding the estimated $60 billion plan.
Students who make satisfactory progress and maintain a 2.5 GPA would be eligible for America’s College Promise. It would save students an estimated $3,800 and affect as many as nine million students, according to the White House.
Many higher education leaders have already praised Obama’s proposal, which is modeled off of a Tennessee program created by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.
“Community colleges are the gateway to middle class opportunity for millions of Americans, and the intent of the President’s proposal appears consistent with our state’s longstanding commitment to affordable higher education," said Scott Ralls, the North Carolina Community College System president, in an emailed statement.
David Baime, senior vice president of government relations and research at the American Association of Community Colleges, said he believes many states would opt into the program if given the opportunity.
“We think it is overall a very positive plan for our students,” Baime said.
Bonnie Meyer, a UNC sophomore, said she would have considered the program if it had been available when she was applying to college.
“It’s great that the government is willing to supply that as long as the people are actually getting an education, which it sounds like there are safeguards for that," she said.
But there has been opposition to the plan. Jay , director of policy analysis at the right-leaning John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, said in an email that “there are no pros, only cons” with the proposal.
"Whoever pays the piper calls the tune," Schalin said. "North Carolina may be giving up a lot of control over its community colleges by taking this much federal money.”
Carter Wrenn, a conservative political consultant, questioned the feasibility of the plan.
“It’s easy for a politician to stand up and tell people he is going to give them something for free,” Wrenn said in an email. “But Obama hid the hard part: He didn’t level with folks. He didn’t say how he’s going to come up with the money."
U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., said in a statement he thinks the government should instead expand its Pell Grant program, which would help four-year institutions as well as community colleges.
"This new proposal from the Obama administration favors one sector of higher education over others when, as we all know, there are so many other options available that might best suit a student’s need," he said.
Still, liberal political consultant Gary Pearce said it would be relatively easy to find the money by, for example, closing the carried interest loophole, a tax break for hedge fund billionaires.
“They estimate that closing that loophole would raise $44 billion over 10 years," Pearce said. "It seems to me that you could close tax loopholes for hedge fund billionaires and give nine million people free community college education.”
Hannah Love, a UNC junior and co-chapter leader of Students for Education Reform at UNC-Chapel Hill, said she is hopeful the plan will come to fruition.
“As with a lot of policy, you know, you have the great idea, and then we have to figure out the budget for it, but I think this is something definitely worth finding the money to do."
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