- - Monday, January 26, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Two years at a “free” community college may seem appealing to young people, fearful of the future and looking for a route to prosperity, but they will be the first to feel disappointment in President Obama’s illusionary community-college-for-all scheme. His proposed $60 billion educational subsidy will inevitably diminish the quality of faculties, prevent promising students from obtaining a suitable education, and do little to provide an entryway into the job market. A college or university degree is not the only route to happiness and success.

California boasts the least-expensive tuition at the two-year schools. Tuition at state colleges and universities there are as low as $1,100 annually. Drawn by the prospect of such low tuition, there’s a list of 470,000 students waiting for admission — a number equaling the entire population of Wyoming. Waitlists are not the only example of the problem. MDRC, a nonprofit educational research organization, finds that a ratio of 1,000-to-1 student to counselor is common in community colleges. That distressing number will increase dramatically with an enrollment of more students.

The federal government’s own National Center for Education Statistics reports that the true annual cost of a two-year degree from a junior college is $13,000. The American Association of Community Colleges reports that number to be more like $16,300. To cover that, the government — and that means everybody — would either pay more than Mr. Obama says it would, or the free ride wouldn’t actually be free at all, and students would pay a lot extra for their “free” education.

The National Student Clearinghouse Center has shown that community college degrees rarely spell the success that community colleges promise. Fewer than 20 percent of community college students complete the requirements for a diploma within three years. Even accounting for transfers, just 15 percent of students enrolling in a community college are likely to graduate with a bachelor’s degree within six years. This dreary statistic has become even drearier in recent years, as the two-year diplomas become more available.

Assuming the best for prospective students entering community college, a wave of graduates would create a surplus of job applicants armed only with a two-year degree and this would make such a degree worth less. The Census Bureau determined that other means of professional certification open far more opportunities than a community college degree.

Though community colleges offer relatively poor prospects for their students, Mr. Obama’s plan would enroll more young Americans into them. This is particularly a concern for high-performing students if less-expensive community colleges become available. Large numbers of promising students — especially those from less affluent and minority households — would default to the less-expensive option instead of searching for a way to an education best suited to their academic ability.

If Mr. Obama wants to further diminish the attraction of community college by increasing the backlog of students, further skew the ratio of students to professors, flood the job market with applicants holding two-year diplomas, misdirect young people who would do better looking for training elsewhere, all at great expense to taxpayers, he’s going about it in just the right way.


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