Free Junior College: Good idea? Smart politics? Bad Policy

Free Junior College: Good idea? Smart politics? Bad policy?

The White House released a progress report in September on President Obama’s $60 billion “American College Promise” plan for “free” community college education, designed to increase access to higher ed and lower student debt. Is Robin Hood blessing America with free junior college?

According to the report, in the first half of 2015, five states and communities created new programs to provide free community college education (which could include current high school students): Oregon, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Illinois, and another 11 states have proposed legislation. We are skeptical that these programs will deliver what they promise.

Fast-tracking students through dual credit (or “concurrent”) enrollment in both high school and college while offering “free” community college education may sound like good ideas, but you still get what you pay for. That is, the taxpayers of America will incur long-term debt that could be very high.

Moreover, dual enrollment and free tuition programs have the potential to do tax-funded damage to enrollments at private and faith-based institutions by financially undercutting their new student recruitment efforts. America’s academic diversity is already at risk. This won’t help.

Once students and their families get used to “free” tuition, private tuition-based institutions will be further disadvantaged against the government’s own tax-subsidized academies for second-year students and transfers.

As well, dual credit programs are already struggling to meet college faculty standards and free community college education won’t tend to raise academic standards or student expectations.

The Road Ahead

The more students who go through these programs, the more pressure private colleges will feel for lowering their academic standards. They will have to admit more transfer students who are less well educated than those who started at their own institutions as freshmen.

Ironically, the President compared his “free” college plan to America’s free government high schools. Given the poor quality of today’s government schools, the country—especially Christian colleges—should be very worried that this conceptually similar plan actually gets traction.


This article is reprinted with slight modifications and with permission from The Founders Institute on Public Policy


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Dr. Roy Atwood is the president of the Founders Institute on Public Policy, an organization involved in advancing

  • Biblically & Constitutionally Limited Government
    • Civil & Religious Liberty & Responsibility
    • Social, Economic & Cultural Development, and
    • Ethical Integrity in the Public Sphere


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