Free Community College Sounds Great, but is it Necessary?

By Madison Friend


Quinsigamond Community College, Worcester, MA

President Barack Obama turned heads during this year’s State of the Union address when he announced plans to make community college “as free and universal in America as high school is today.”

The plan sounds great – 40 percent of all college students in the United States attend community college, many of which are non-traditional students that don’t qualify for certain types of financial aid – but is it feasible or even necessary?

Tennessee Promise, a similar initiative that has drawn national interest in the weeks following the State of the Union address, gives eligible high school seniors the opportunity to attend any of the state’s 13 community colleges or 27 colleges of applied-technology tuition-free.

In the context of the now-national discussion about the rising cost of college and its resultant debt for many, Tennessee Promise has generated as much controversy as it has praise. Copycat initiatives have popped up in Texas, Indiana, and Minnesota, but some aren’t so quick to hitch their car to the free-community-college bandwagon.

Dylan Svedberg, a former student of Quinsigamond Community College, thinks the real problem lies elsewhere.

“I already got enough money to go to Quinsig, so that I didn’t have to pay anything,” said Svedberg. “I needed money for rent and gas and food, and eventually I had to drop out because I needed to work a lot to support myself. I didn’t have time for my classes.”

Like Dylan, many students require additional help with living expenses than they do academic ones. But those at-risk academically may wind up in danger if government funds go towards attracting new students instead of improving existing programs. More attendees might further strain the resources of already-underfunded community colleges, creating more of a problem than a solution. Academic assistance – in the form of mentoring and tutoring programs – is just as important as financial assistance when it comes to assuring student success

“I like the plan,” continued Svedberg, “but I don’t understand how it’s going to change things, really. Quinsig needed more money, not more students. Maybe I don’t get it because I never finished college. Ha.”

It remains to be seen how and when these concerns will be addressed by the Obama Administration moving forward.

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