Tuesday, January 20, 2015

President Obama's community-college plan

The Washington Post Editorial Board is unimpressed with Obama's plan to subsidize community-college tuition, which he's going to announce in tonight's State of the Union address. The plan would supposedly save an average of $3,800 per student for 9 million students a year, three-quarters of which would be paid for by the federal government, with the rest covered by state governments. Here's what WaPo has to say:

[U]nder Mr. Obama’s plan, taxpayers would pay even for those who could pay for themselves. If additional money can be found for education, why not direct it to those who face the highest barriers? Further increasing the size of Pell Grants, for example, would be a more progressive way to help very needy students. Larger Pell Grants would also be usable at four-year colleges and universities, which could give some poor students a better chance at success, and not just at community colleges. The government should at least make Pell Grants available year-round, so that students could study over the summer, rather than just during the school year. These are all higher priorities.

If the president wants to help those who earn just too much to qualify for Pell Grants, he could consider means testing community college tuition assistance some other way. The White House, however, hasn’t gamed out how means testing would affect the proposal, in part, apparently, for philosophical reasons. “The president believes that it is time to make college education the norm, and that about 100 years ago this country decided that high school would be the norm and that now is the time to make sure that all Americans, regardless of age, have access to higher education,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said Friday. That’s a fine goal. But in an era of constrained resources, there are better ways of improving access to higher education than establishing a new middle-class entitlement.