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“America’s Promise” free community college scheme promises low academic standards, high national debt

In an attempt to circumvent Congress and move the free college agenda forward, The White House will launch a $100 million grant program for free community college tuition. The new program, America’s Promise Grants, was unveiled last week by Vice President Biden in a speech at the Community College of Philadelphia.

The America’s Promise Grants program offers $100 million in grants designed to create and expand “partnerships between community colleges and other training providers, employers, and the public workforce system to create more dynamic, tuition-free education and training programs for in-demand middle and high-skilled jobs across the country,” according to the White House.

These grants will be administered by the Department of Labor and funded by H1-B application fees. H1-B visas are given to skilled foreign workers, typically for STEM occupations.

According to a statement released by The White House, the costly grant program is the least expensive part of the community college mandate. The statement includes several additional budget proposals:

  • $75 million for technical job training programs.
  • Tax credit incentives for businesses that hire community college graduates full-time.
  • An additional $2 billion in Pell Grants for FY2015.
  • A $3 billion program designed to keep jobs in the U.S.

The new community college tuition grant program and its subsequent budget proposals are not only expensive, but also impractical.

The grants program is investing in a community college system with a declining education value. Obama’s program does little to address low graduation rates or poor academic standards. The average American college student reads at a 7th grade level; the reading level of a community college student would likely be even lower.

The community college graduation rate is continuing to decline; only 19.5% of students graduate within three years.

As for being a cost-efficient stepping-stone to a four-year institution, plans to transfer are often unsuccessful as only 15% of community college students earn a bachelor’s degree within six years.

Even if America’s Promise Grants did lead to higher graduation rates, adding an additional free two years of education to our ineffective K-12 system would only result in an ineffective K-14 system.

Unsurprisingly, remedial courses are common among community college students with 68% of students enrolling in at least one remedial course during a period of six years. 59% of community college students are referred to remedial math upon entrance.

The America’s Promise Grants Program is intended to produce graduates capable STEM workers. This is a lofty goal when most community college students are enrolled in remedial math.

The $100 million scheme doesn’t make much fiscal sense either. Almost exactly one year ago, the Obama Administration proposed America’s College Promise Act, a nationwide program for free community college tuition. Out of the $80 billion combined federal and state investment for America’s College Promise Act, only $32 billion would result in a degree or credential.

America’s Promise Grants would likely result in a similar outcome, especially considering the high student loan default rate. Community college students have the highest default rate, with 20.6% of students defaulting on their student loans within three years.

Community college isn’t very expensive; the average cost of community college tuition is only $3,300 per year. Therefore, the high default rate signifies a problem that is much larger than rising tuition costs.

The market has already indicated that community college produces a low return on investment. The free market can also determine the value of a degree. As Neil Seifring, Director of Strategic Initiatives at FreedomWorks, pointed out:

“The market should be deciding the value of higher education. It should not be dictated by a federal government that is over $18 trillion in debt and unable to manage its own finances, let alone that of a national free college tuition program.”

The America’s Promise Grants Program is just another instance of the government spending money we don’t have for programs we don’t need.