A community college, which is also known as a junior college, is a unique phenomenon in the educational system of the United States. It is an institution, provides transfer academic programs, which usually last for two years and serve as a path to a bachelor’s degree. In the United States, there are more than 1000 community colleges, which present students an opportunity of receiving a post-secondary education at a reasonable price and allow further transfer to a university.
Some states, such as Tennessee, New York, or California offer to learn in these institutions for free. However, there are multiple debates about whether the country should provide opportunities for free education to all the people. Proponents of this initiative claim that it allows students to receive basic knowledge and save money for going to a university to receive a good qualification according to their interests and helps to improve the economic situation. On the contrary, many experts are concerned that people, who study for free, have worse attitudes than those who pay for their education and state that subsidizing free community colleges are too expensive for the taxpayers.
Community colleges are the foundation of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education. They provide a variety of opportunities, including open access to postsecondary education, preparation for transfer to a university to receive a bachelor’s degree, the development of workforce, and skills training for the leading industries. Among the advantages of this system are its affordability, relevance, and partnership with universities. The State of Tennessee became a pioneer in making these organizations free in 2012 after the Republican governor Bill Haslam signed a bill, which was called by its opponents “Monkey Bill” (“Why Community Colleges Should Be Free”).
Today, such colleges are found all over the United States, in such counties as New York, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Kentucky, Nevada, Oregon, Hawaii, and others. The institutions are also divided according to their type of tuition elimination into first-dollar, last-dollar, and need-based (Whistle). The first-dollar approach implies the revocation of the payment before all grants and scholarships, a last-dollar program cancels tuition after all scholarships and grants, and need-based initiatives are targeted at attracting students with financial difficulties. All of these programs are aimed at individuals with a certain income threshold.
The existence of free community colleges has caused numerous debates. Proponents of this initiative state that it is an opportunity for more people to receive a specialization as, according to the estimations, 65% of jobs require post-secondary education (“Making the Case for Free Community College Nationwide”). From this perspective, allowing more students to become qualified in a certain sphere is a chance for climbing the social and financial ladder, which has a positive impact on the general state of the country’s economy. According to Haslam, it also helps to liquidate the problem of injustice as people receive equal opportunities due to this initiative (“Making the Case for Free Community College Nationwide”).
The study of Princeton University held in 2018 showed that “two-thirds of new students who enrolled in free community college programs were low-income young people who probably would not have enrolled in college at all otherwise” (“Making the Case for Free Community College Nationwide” par. 18). Those students demonstrated a serious advancement and received more employment opportunities. From this perspective, the availability of free community colleges influences the economy of the country as it helps more people to become efficient.
Another reason, which supports the idea of free educational institutions, is the chance for young people to save more money for going to a university and receive better training, which would help them become more efficient specialists. Typically, local community colleges have agreements with universities, which allow students to transfer to a four-year institution after attending a two-year college. It allows both saving a significant amount of money and receiving a proper bachelor’s degree from the chosen university.
According to the estimations, the average annual cost for “a public two-year college is $3,440 for in-district students”, while for a four-year university it is “$9,410 for in-state students and $23,890 for out-of-state students” (Bisht par. 66). Attending a two-year institution before deciding to receive a higher education is also a chance for students to explore careers before committing to one of them. The programs of free college education have proved their effectiveness as they increased college enrollment, lowered the amount of student loan debt, and improved completion rates.
However, the opponents of the initiative find several serious problems in relation to free community colleges. According to their opinion, students, who are not charged with a payment, show worse attitudes and less commitment to the process of studying. The experts at the University of Michigan held an experiment, during which they contacted low-income, high-achieving students and told them they had four years of guaranteed free tuition and fees (Sacerdote).
This promise and the simplicity of the process lead to an increase in the number of students “who enrolled at the University of Michigan by 15 percentage points” (Sacerdote par. 9). Moreover, individuals, who know they are paid for, show less commitment to their studies and often become a problem for teachers as they tend to show worse attitudes than those who pay for their training. Such students often demonstrate a lack of discipline as they have no stimulus to use the opportunities offered to them by the institution. They often treat college as an extension of high school, providing them more time for picking up a degree, which would guarantee them a well-paying job, which results in more students becoming less efficient specialists.
Moreover, the opponents of free community colleges say that free tuition shifts the financial burden from students to taxpayers and that the government cannot subsidize them. From this perspective, experts assume that making the initiative available nationwide is impossible to its devastative impact on the economy. According to the estimations of the U.S. Department of Education, “eliminating tuition for four years at all public colleges and universities for all students would cost taxpayers $79 billion a year” (Winograd & Lubin par. 9). These calculations prove that subsidizing free post-secondary educational facilities is expensive for the government, even when providing it for free only to low-income families. Making the initiative available to everyone would lead to a financial crisis and would only worsen the situation.
One of the solutions to the problems, which concern the opponents of the initiative of free community colleges, is to involve testing of the abilities of the students before granting them free access to an educational facility. Many institutions in the United States already have this requirement, for example, colleges in Chicago have a condition for the participants of its program providing free tuition opportunities: to earn at least a “B” average (“Making the Case for Free Community College Nationwide”).
The financial issues are also being considered by the administration as the importance of community colleges is already obvious and the system of free-of-charge admission has proved its efficiency, as well. It is especially critical today when the world is suffering from the pandemic, which has also impacted community colleges in the United States and demonstrated the need for educational opportunities for all the people. At all times, individuals require options for receiving new skills and knowledge to be able to make their living and contribute to the economy of their country, regardless of their race or social status.
In conclusion, free community colleges are a good initiative, aimed at helping students, especially those who come from low-income families and cannot afford to receive a degree. The program allows more individuals to receive a good education and become qualified in the chosen sphere. Typically, these institutions offer two-year training, proving students with basic knowledge, which helps them to choose the future career later. The system of free community colleges gives people a chance to save more money for further studying at a university to receive a higher degree and more employment opportunities.
The initiative also helps to improve the economy of the country as it helps to receive more good specialists and fights the problem of injustice. However, there is a counterargument, stating that students, who are paid for, show less commitment and often demonstrate poor discipline, causing problems to teachers. Moreover, nationwide free access to community colleges is impossible from the financial perspective as the government cannot subsidize them and it would become an additional burden for taxpayers. However, there is a strong need for free community colleges as they have proved their efficiency.
Bisht, Inder Singh. Is Community College Free? In These States, Yes. The College Post. 2020. Web.
“Making the Case for Free Community College Nationwide.” Chicago Sun Times. 2021. Web.
Sacerdote, Bruce. Opinion: Here’s the Downside of Making Community College Free. MarketWatch. 2020. Web.
Whistle, Westley. The Benefits of Free College. Forbes. 2020. Web.
Winograd, Morley & Lubin, Max. Tuition-free College is Critical to Our Economy. EdSource. 2020. Web.
“Why Community Colleges Should Be Free.” Scientific American. 2014. Web.