Obama’s free community college plan

by on January 11, 2015 at 1:17 am in Current Affairs, Economics, Education, Uncategorized | Permalink

David Leonhardt writes:

The plan — which would require congressional approval — would apply to students attending a two-year college, including part time, so long as the college offered credits that could transfer to a four-year college or provided training that led to jobs.

David’s article is excellent and has much useful information:

As Reihan Salam of National Review notes, community college tuition is already low. In fact, it’s zero, on average, for lower-income families, after taking financial aid into account. Vox’s Libby Nelson wrote, “Community college tuition for poorer students is often entirely covered by the need-based Pell Grant.”

One potential implication is that by making community college universally free, the government is mostly reducing the cost for higher-income families.

Calculating the completion rate at community colleges is difficult, this estimate does some work to get it up to 38 percent.  What would the completion rate be for the marginal students encouraged under the Obama plan?  We don’t know, but I’ll guess at 20-30%, no more.  That’s the real problem.

Furthermore some of the value of education is signaling to the labor market that you are able to finish college.  I do think the learning component of education is generally more important, but for “marginally not attending community college individuals” — who are often regarded with suspicion by employers — I would not be surprised if the signaling component were one third or more of the value of a degree.  To that extent, pushing more marginals into the degree funnel lowers the value of the degree for the others who were getting it already by lowering the average productivity of the pool of finishers.  That would lower the efficiency gains from the program and also partially offset some of the intended distributional consequences.

Mike Konczal likes the idea, and believes it may lower higher education prices more generally.  Libby Nelson at Vox considers it to be a middle class benefit.  Neil McCluskey at Cato is negative.  Carrie Sheffield is critical.  Here is a look at potential winners and losers in the higher education sector.  The plan could lead to federal money replacing state money, rather than leveraging it.

Citing the growing economy and improving labor market, Andrew Flowers noted:

college enrollment is declining for recent high school graduates (those 16 to 24 years old). And it’s falling fastest for community colleges.

Overall my take is that the significant gains are to be had at the family level and at the primary education level, and that the price of community college is not a major bottleneck under the status quo.

1 Steve Sailer January 11, 2015 at 1:48 am

Why don’t four year colleges give out associates degrees to people who finish two years worth of requirements but not four years worth? Universities give out masters degrees to doctoral candidates who don’t finish their dissertations, so why not something similar for undergrads?

2 Carlos January 11, 2015 at 3:33 am

That would be a great idea. People that got into 4 year colleges and flunked out have the extra debt without the degree

3 Handle January 11, 2015 at 10:52 am

It’s not a good idea.

First, what employers want is a quick way to throw away the majority of applications, or prevent them from showing up in the first place, which implies a discontinuous and quantum proxy for something that separates “above average in both smarts and conscientiousness” from the rest. Look how many job postings require a four-year degree at a minimum. All the lower-level degrees won’t help anyone get those jobs, which, if you also look at the income distribution, is also where all the supposed ‘income gains to education’ are. Your two-year degree won’t give you half those gains, because it’s more like steep steps than a smooth ramp.

Second, the distribution of signals doesn’t change the distribution of talent and character. You can’t fool employers with the degree equivalent of grade-inflation. They’ll just adjust their hiring aperture or probationary path accordingly.

In a credentialist labor market, what’s important for 4-year degrees is the signal that completing a degree sends, and the employer-desired characteristics for which the attributes of that degree stand as proxies. No one actually cares about class-time (no one ‘learned’ much anyway, judging by what they can remember on exit exams), so the number of credit hours you complete on the way to graduation is not linearly proportional to the completion signal. If you start creating a lot more off-ramps, then you are just encouraging more people to waste their time and money.

Third, there’s a big difference between the dynamics of undergrad and grad degrees. Graduate students already have a 4-year degree, which is 90% of the signal, and grad-school is long and risky, which would scare a lot of people off it you didn’t provide the parachute or ‘off-ramp’ of getting credit and social benefits for time-served if it turns out the scholarly life is not for them. Again, look at job posting, for example on USAjobs. You see that Master’s degrees do in fact give you some credit between 4-year and PhD/JD/MD. But 2-year degrees don’t give you much at all.

4 China Cat January 12, 2015 at 9:26 am

+1 Except I think many grad school programs not so risky.

5 Yancey Ward January 12, 2015 at 12:59 pm

Can’t recommend this comment enough.

6 Brandon Berg January 11, 2015 at 7:21 am

Aren’t AA degrees usually vocational? Whereas the first two years of a BA or BS curriculum are mostly general ed. The first two years of a bachelor’s degree don’t strike me as being even close to interchangeable with an AA.

7 Brandon Berg January 11, 2015 at 7:23 am

Actually, I just remembered that it’s common for students to do two years at community college and transfer to a university, so maybe that’s wrong. How does that work? I assume these students don’t typically get AAs in nursing or criminology. Is there a special pre-university track?

8 alex January 11, 2015 at 11:39 am

In the Florida community college system, AS degrees are for vocational degrees, standard AA degrees are for professional programs like nursing or paralegal, and “transfer AA degrees” exist for students who wish to transfer to a state university. The transfer degree requirements are 70-90% general education requirements with the remaining credits specific to whatever major the student wishes to transfer into.

9 Brenton January 11, 2015 at 5:13 pm

alex that depends. In some cases, only a small percentage of the courses are general ed classes. Engineers for example.

10 Massimo January 11, 2015 at 6:06 pm

Community colleges offer vocational education, transfer education (for transfer into a four year school), remedial education (for students who didn’t learn what they should have in K-12), and adult continuing education (for adults who want to learn a foreign language or some other skill).

Usually, the vocational education and transfer education are completely separate and the coursework has little if any overlap. I took transfer education at community college which covered calculus 1,2,diff-eq, general chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, and biology, along with the more general stuff: history, literature, public speaking, foreign language. The math + science was at least as rigorous as what they teach at university.

11 Pamela J. Hobart January 11, 2015 at 8:43 am

The analogy is not great and reveals why this is more complicated in practice. I, for instance, managed to attend 5 years of a PhD program and never officially get a master’s.

The trouble is that, in doing 2 years of what is supposed to be a longer program, you can easily miss some of the core, more difficult, and/or weed-out classes (especially when advisors suck and have no interest in seeing you graduate faster – possibly are incentivized for the opposite). That means that you very often haven’t completed the same requirements as a person who literally finished the 2-year degree if you just work for 2 years at a 4+ year degree.

In my case, I failed to complete language requirements or something, so I didn’t end up with a master’s instead of a PhD. I suspect that people who do 2 years of a 4-year degree probably end up behind at math and/or science. The advisors don’t care and let them do this, then when it’s time to catch up they preemptively give up and drop out. Those people have neither learned nor signaled as much as true associate degree earners.

People with some college but no degree *still* see an income bump (last I heard), so employers apparently are sensitive to this already.

12 Nathan W January 11, 2015 at 4:47 pm

I have gotten jobs before on partially completed qualifications. I don’t see why more people don’t try to do the same. Say you’re taking a year off because you can’t figure out which courses to take next year or something. Then they know you’re committed for at least a year.

13 James Hanley January 12, 2015 at 8:54 am

Some 4 year colleges do offer AA degrees. Mine, at least, does. We don’t publicize it much because as a tuition-driven private college (not for profit, just the traditional style liberal arts school), we want to keep students for the full 4 years. Also, we don’t want to become known as just a community college+.

Students getting the AA can’t just take two years of random courses, of course, but must complete a particular set. All in all, it’s fairly unusual, but it sometimes happens.

There is a distinct advantage to the college, in that if a student is going to leave, not getting any degree from us hits our retention rate, whereas getting a degree does not. We still have that one student less, of course, but the Department of Education treats the AA student who leaves as a graduate of the institution. [Insert standard critique of bureaucratic rules and how well-intended standards often create perverse incentives.]

14 Suzanne Stauffer January 13, 2015 at 8:48 am

Many — most — four year colleges do award associates degrees. Students have to meet the criteria for the degree and apply for it. They don’t get it just for taking any combination of classes. The degree has to mean something.

Doctoral programs do not award master’s degrees to candidates who do not finish their dissertations. Some programs will award a non-terminal, M.Phil. to students who pass the qualifying exams.

15 Joanne Jacobs January 14, 2015 at 7:05 pm

There’s a foundation-funded initiative to award associate degrees for community college transfers who finished enough credits but never earned a bachelor’s. However, the labor market value of an AA degree is very low. Employers are impressed by an Associate in Applied Science degree, because these are awarded in vocational fields. Medical and technical AAS graduates do quite well.

16 So Much for Subtlety January 11, 2015 at 2:04 am

He is shoveling pork to his preferred clients. No more. That is, he probably thinks that the main beneficiaries of this will be poor Black families. They won’t be. If Community College is cheap, lots of people will enroll and then they will fail or drop out. It is unlikely to have much of an impact there. It may help middle class Black families afford Community College but their educational outcomes are not radically different from those of poor Blacks.

So the people who will benefit will be the teachers and administrators of said Community Colleges. They will simply get more Federal money which will raise salaries a tiny bit, add more First Years, add a few more Adjuncts and add a hell of a lot more Administrators.

Who will all vote as reliable Democrats.

17 Boonton January 11, 2015 at 5:40 am

It’s not going to help employment at colleges unless you bring in a lot of new students. If it brings in a lot of new students, the main beneficiaries are not going to be ‘poor Black families’. Blacks make up only 12% of the population, there simply are not enough black people in the US to significantly increase the college population just like there weren’t enough black people in the US to create the housing bubble….

18 sort_of_knowledgeable January 11, 2015 at 12:33 pm

There are about 22 million students in the whole college system right now. if an extra 5% of the black population or 16 million went to college that would significantly increase the college population.

19 carlolspln January 11, 2015 at 2:34 pm

A delta of 3% is ‘significant’?

20 sort_of_knowledgeable January 11, 2015 at 10:51 pm

Where did you get 3%? 1.6 is 7% of 22. I should have said community college population which is a much smaller proportion of the total college population.

21 Jan January 11, 2015 at 6:51 am

Why would he think that the beneficiaries will be poor blacks if we’ve already proven they all go to college for free? And those teachers and administrators? They all vote Democrat already–really no need to buy them off when President McBlacky Black could be using his illegal policies to lock-in the immigrant votes, right?

22 So Much for Subtlety January 11, 2015 at 1:53 pm

Why would he think that? Especially when he specifically said that it would not help poor Blacks? I don’t know, really I don’t.

People on college campuses are reliable Democrats. More money means more people on college campuses. More students means more Admin. If the number of Admin goes up, so does the Democratic vote. If those Admin had got jobs in the private sector, where their pay is not so obviously leached off people with real jobs, they would probably not vote left so reliably.

23 Nathan W January 11, 2015 at 4:51 pm

When ALL youth can access opportunities, the entire economy gains.

And yes, probably the people who benefit from it will be more likely to vote for him than for the other folks who would prefer to kick a man who is down.

24 So Much for Subtlety January 11, 2015 at 6:11 pm

You’re trolling right?

25 Nathan W January 12, 2015 at 11:50 am

Let me try to opposite argument and see how it rings.

When poor youth are excluded from opportunity, everyone gains. And they will vote for people who help to exclude them.

26 Ray Lopez January 11, 2015 at 2:21 am

NOVA wins, GMU loses!

27 Bill January 11, 2015 at 10:27 am

Ray,

GMU students win, as GMU will have to lower tuition to attract students, meaning faculty salaries will be cut and faculty teaching loads at GMU will increase.

28 Otto Maddox January 11, 2015 at 2:36 am

As a JC instructor, I have found that 50%+ of the students shouldn’t be there stemming from a poor K-12 education, a lack of motivation, and/or a lack of ability.

29 Michael January 11, 2015 at 9:06 am

As someone who used to teach at community colleges in three parts of the country, I agree. The CC system has got substantially worse, due to bloat, corruption, and unmotivated students.

The last school I worked for hired a beauty pageant winner and former marketing exec at a race-based lobby group to be head of department. She had no Ph.D. and little experience.

Community colleges went from workhorses to awful in the past 20 years, and this move is going to make them worse. Additionally, Cowen is right (first time I’ve ever said that). This is going to make the signalling weaker, the college education less efficient, and drive up real costs.

I voted for Obama and consider myself a Keynesian, but I think this is a horrible idea.

30 So Much for Subtlety January 11, 2015 at 1:57 pm

Michael January 11, 2015 at 9:06 am

I voted for Obama and consider myself a Keynesian, but I think this is a horrible idea.

Nice to see Robert Conquest’s First Law so neatly demonstrated – Everyone is conservative about what he knows best.

But look on the bright side, at least there won’t be a big class divide as the same reforms will work their way through to Harvard soon enough.

31 buddyglass January 12, 2015 at 8:50 am

I’m only one data point and undoubtedly not representative of most J.C. students, but I took a few classes one summer for the sole purpose of transferring them to the 4-year university I was attending. The tuition was less and it took virtually zero effort to get a passing grade. As in, the easiest classes I took in high school were more difficult than the Psych 101 and Government 101 classes I took at the J.C.

So I found the J.C. valuable, but not in an “educational” sense. More in the “saving me money and time but not actually teaching me anything” sense.

32 Al January 12, 2015 at 12:28 pm

I’m not disagreeing with your assessment of 50% of these students or the fact that there is a poor K-12 education experience, lack of ability & motivation.

Maybe Obama has simply concluded that efforts to reform K-12 schools at the national level can only go so far (because of state’s rights, teacher’s unions, Creationists and other anti-scientific types, poorly educated or apathetic parents, mandatory attendance rules that turn elementary schools into babysitting services, inequality of neighborhood, a variety of types of violence on campus, etc).

33 Sam Haysom January 12, 2015 at 1:37 pm

We must close the atheistic-scientic determinism gap.

God didn’t create us but he did makes us equal. The leftist scale-balancer God.

34 FC January 11, 2015 at 2:50 am

2012: Obama phone
2015: Obama degree

35 anon January 11, 2015 at 10:21 am

Need a song

36 8 January 11, 2015 at 12:48 pm

Song: It’s free, swipe your EBT.

37 Massimo January 11, 2015 at 6:10 pm

The “Obama phone” thing was largely debunked in that the free phones for poor programs pre-date Obama and they often aren’t funded or run by federal government. The expression is still used though.

38 TallDave January 11, 2015 at 3:13 am

I’m increasingly of the opinion that the non-signalling value of college to employers is small (i.e. the strictly educational value) simply because it’s so easy to access the same information outside of colleges — but the non-signalling value to students is large, because college is where you can learn about the fields you might want to work in and get some feel for the proposition. It’s a lot easier to choose or change a major than a career.

But hey, employment is high-risk, employers need signals (though government should also allow employers to use intelligence tests rather than aptitude tests).

39 ummm January 11, 2015 at 6:18 am

With the exception of highly specialized work, intelligence tests, not diplomas, are the answer, but only the largest of the companies have the resources to deal with the leftist disparate impact litigation that is inevitably to follow

In 1971, in the case Griggs v. Duke Power Co.[1],[10] the US Supreme Court handed down a seminal ruling which framed US public policy on adverse impact. Griggs concerned a company which had rejected a large number of Black applicants who either lacked a high-school education or performed poorly on a paper-and-pencil cognitive test. Referring to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 [2], the Court wrote,

The Act proscribes not only overt discrimination but also practices that are fair in form, but discriminatory in operation. The touchstone is business necessity. If an employment practice which operates to exclude Negroes cannot be shown to be related to job performance, the practice is prohibited.

40 TMC January 11, 2015 at 9:59 am

Intel just announced a $300 million program to get feminists off their back. No one can escape.

Makes Al Sharpton look like a piker extortionist.

41 Jay January 12, 2015 at 8:19 am

Those tests make the company open to discrimination lawsuits, better to just use the college signal.

42 Dan Weber January 12, 2015 at 12:16 pm

Most people on both sides forget, but the text of Griggs says that you can’t use college as your differentiator if it has a disparate impact, either.

There is a lot of literature on the best way to screen employees, and they largely come down to two answers:

1. if in the US, do a work sample

2. if not in the US, do a work sample combined with a general IQ test

43 Careless January 12, 2015 at 3:06 pm

Most people on both sides forget, but the text of Griggs says that you can’t use college as your differentiator if it has a disparate impact, either.

Wild guess: courts have decided that having a college degree is a relevant factor for a variety of jobs, so companies don’t fear using it as a qualification.

44 buddyglass January 12, 2015 at 9:09 am

The problem with IQ tests (or standardized tests whose results correlate reasonably strongly with IQ) is that they don’t measure “ability to actually get shit done”. I have fantastic test scores; it’s the “getting shit done” category where I’m only average.

45 Jay January 12, 2015 at 5:29 pm

Of course they’d ideally want both, the 2nd part can be weeded out by other factors, grades, work history, interviews, etc. What they need is a first round filter to make HR’s work easier.

46 buddyglass January 12, 2015 at 10:22 pm

Two things seem to be true. At least, in my experience. First, work experience is hard to gauge. Second, most companies do a terrible job of interviewing. They both thumbs-down people who could be valuable contributors and thumbs-up people who are not likely to be especially valuable.

What grades wold you use if we get rid of diplomas? High school? Would employers do the work of educating students straight out of high school to be, say, electrical engineers? Software developers? Presumably this is something employers would want to outsource to, say, private educational institutions. But how would an employer guard against an employee coming on board, taking advantage of the education, and then going elsewhere? Hiring young, untrained employes would be even more risky than it is today by virtue of the increased cost of training them up to the point where they’re useful.

47 Andrew Smith January 11, 2015 at 3:56 am

I think this analysis also underestimates how important some of the job training that goes on at community colleges is. It might seem trivial to some, but learning excel, or drafting or whatever is a valuable skill. A lot of people can better themselves and the economy by learning such skills.

Our secondary education lacks job training programs, but community colleges are good places for this, they have part-time programs, they have (sometimes) dedicated instructors and they allow students to take a class here or there.

The “degree funnel” is useless if the degrees are useless. If free community college is the price of breaking down the signaling system in favor of something that teaches some kind of skills, especially at the low end, then shouldn’t we all be in favor of that?

If the issue is the price tag, then there are so many less-useful federal job programs to look at.

48 Artimus January 11, 2015 at 6:15 am

+1

49 TMC January 11, 2015 at 10:01 am

Agree with the first two paragraphs, but education is already free to those at the low end.

50 Dan January 11, 2015 at 3:44 pm

This seems right. People like Tyler keep complaining about the structural unemployment problem, but this CC idea seems as good as any a way of addressing it. Yeah, 40-somethings could just learn Excel on their own, but in my experience it’s just too scary for them unless you actually sit down with them and show them how to do a vlookup or whatever.

51 Nathan W January 11, 2015 at 5:09 pm

I think some of the lowest hanging fruit would be for public money to be spent creating high quality and free curriculum for things like how to use Excel, basic web skills, etc. There is so much crap out there, and many people would rather not have to sign up for formal classes but have a hard time wading through the mounds of semi-useful freemiumable content for basic computer training.

52 prior_approval January 11, 2015 at 5:04 am

‘We don’t know, but I’ll guess at 20-30%, no more. That’s the real problem.’

One has to agree – uninformed guesses are a real problem.

53 JWatts January 11, 2015 at 12:00 pm

“One has to agree – uninformed guesses are a real problem. ”

Your reading comprehension is pathetic. From the article:

“Calculating the completion rate at community colleges is difficult, this estimate does some work to get it up to 38 percent. What would the completion rate be for the marginal students encouraged under the Obama plan? We don’t know, but I’ll guess at 20-30%, no more.”

So not only was Tyler’s estimate “informed”, but the information he used was available to you in the very same paragraph. It’s clear that your smart, but your obsessive mental attitude shades the majority of what you post on this site to such a degree that the output is garbage.

54 Careless January 11, 2015 at 7:28 pm

No, that’s not clear.

55 Ray Lopez January 11, 2015 at 5:27 am

My hot 20-something girlfriend here in the Philippines–I am over twice her age–has a relative who finished just high school and has a hard time looking for a job. He decided to take a one month course in welding, and I gladly agreed to pay for it. Why spend lots of money on ‘signaling’ especially in the Third World, when you can spend a fraction learning a concrete skill like welding, which you can immediately monetize? BTW the course will cost about $150–peanuts, and money well spent.

56 Jan January 11, 2015 at 6:54 am

Pics or it didn’t happen.

57 TMC January 11, 2015 at 10:03 am
58 JWatts January 11, 2015 at 12:39 pm

That’s hot!

59 CC January 11, 2015 at 8:14 am

Wow, it took Ray Lopez that long to relate this post somehow to his Filipino girlfriend!?

60 Tom West January 11, 2015 at 11:53 am

I honestly don’t get it. Is the beginning of his post satire?

I understand Poe’s law, but come on, the fact that the first few lines could be from an SNL sketch leads me to believe he can’t possibly be serious. Sure, the caricature of sad expatriate who has purchased companionship might have some truth. And May-December romances do exist.

But *nobody* shouts out “Hey! I’m the sad old man!”

Would Mr. Lopez do me the favor of explaining the subtleties of this humor for those of us who are just confused?

(If somehow this is serious, my apologies, but please don’t reply. It’d be too painful as my mirror neurons die of sympathetic embarrassment.)

61 Ray Lopez January 11, 2015 at 1:47 pm

@Tom West – go East, old man, and you’ll believe what I’m saying. You can have your cake and Edith too.

62 Tom West January 11, 2015 at 4:21 pm

Arg.

Your personal life is none of my business. But what one earth could make you *want* to be perceived as the sad comic relief character in any number of bad movies? You could have your preferred life without us cringing for you with *less* typing.

Does your dignity mean nothing?

Or were you under the impression when people saw Anna Nicole’s husband, they felt *envy*?

63 Careless January 11, 2015 at 8:06 pm

Hence my theory that ray is really a sixteen year old kid.

64 China Cat January 12, 2015 at 1:18 pm

Never argue from price, Ray.

65 Chip January 11, 2015 at 5:38 am

An estimated $70 billion of new revenue to community colleges with a minimum GPA to be achieved to keep this revenue.

Expect grade inflation which will further weaken the college signal as the incentive shifts from moving students into jobs to moving people into students?

66 Chip January 11, 2015 at 5:50 am

Generally, I agree with Tyler’s last comment. Access to education isn’t the issue.

I’ve three kids through school systems in three different countries. The key to learning is parental involvement. I’ve seen another example of it in Singapore recently.

Local parents fight for access to ‘good’ schools that get the highest marks on the grade 6 exams, in the belief that they provide an edge.

But immigrants who can’t access these schools and end up in no name schools are producing really high scores – the highest this past year in fact.

Involved parents tend to cluster in a school because they think it’s the school that matters, when it’s actually the cluster of these involved parents.

67 JWatts January 11, 2015 at 12:42 pm

“Involved parents tend to cluster in a school because they think it’s the school that matters, when it’s actually the cluster of these involved parents.”

I’d say it’s more than just that. Connections matter. Going to school in a cohort with high level connections and involved parents generates additional opportunities for success.

68 Nathan W January 11, 2015 at 5:14 pm

That’s more how I’d think of it. For example, private schools almost never perform particularly above average (or even below) for pure academics, but what they share in common is people that come from money. And one of the most obvious things in the world is that it’s hard to make money when you have no money. Nothing like a hand up to get that first internship (which you can do for free ’cause your folks clearly have money) at some successful company to get things rolling.

69 Chip January 11, 2015 at 6:43 pm

Moving from a Singapore primary school to secondary is academically competitive and connections play little part.

The important element is the parents, who monitor and encourage their kids from the very beginning, coupled with being surrounded by peers doing the same.

It’s a cultural environment.

The curriculum and schools themselves are pretty uniform.

70 Nathan W January 12, 2015 at 12:02 pm

Academically competitive is not contradictory with connections playing a part.

Wealthy people often get the best tutors (but not necessarily teachers, and for example I hate working in private learning centres). In the past, I have earned more money tutoring 10 year olds in grammar and oral English than I have earned translating and editing documents for various government an international organization research documents. With one exception, they all made it into top middle schools. They knew someone who could recommend me, and they could pay enough to draw me out of the library, so to speak.

71 Boonton January 11, 2015 at 5:52 am

My first instinct is why not just double down on student loans? Student loans are market driven. It takes less to borrow to go to a community college, more to go to a 4 yr school. Even though interest rates are low, debt is still debt and you don’t borrow $50K instead of $15K unless you think it will be easier to pay back the $35K difference.

Student loans have also gotten a bad rap by both the left and the right. They do not cause education inflation. It is a burden to pay back for many students after graduation, but not a huge one (as always with the young, don’t confuse complaining with actual hardship). Most students are not saddled with huge debt and the few that are often have greater earning prospects because of it. It also aligns paying for the investment in education with the primary one who benefits from it, namely the student who will earn a lifetime premium in their income. They are also totally budget neutral for the gov’t (actually they reduce the deficit as loans are paid back with interest).

On the other hand, County Colleges have a lot of points:

* They are a logical place to get and implement vocational and trade training. Something that is neglected in this country.

* They are a good place for those who aren’t set up for doing a 4 year college to get a college degree rather than fail at a 4 year one.

* They are a good place for exploring career options.

* They are an offset to 4 year colleges, which are much more expensive.

* They are often innovators in cutting costs, I believe community colleges tried out online courses and telecourses long before 4 years did.

72 ummm January 11, 2015 at 6:12 am

yeah, the anti-college crowd has been spreading falsehoods about student loan debt for years. With 20- 30k of debt (the typical debt for a student) and a solid five figure job, the debt isn’t so bad, and you still have much better prospects than the individual without college who is making much less.

73 Boonton January 11, 2015 at 6:51 am

And don’t forget you can essentially spread that debt out over your entire life to pay back. The same people will not carp about a $25K car loan that has to be paid off in 5 years, by which time the car is nearly worthless.

74 buddyglass January 12, 2015 at 9:14 am

And the interest is deductible if you itemize. So it’s like mortgage debt.

75 SC January 11, 2015 at 8:21 am

I will admit that what bugs me about my student loan debt is the intergenerational shift in the burden of financing the education required for a non-poverty-level career. I can’t help but notice that baby boomers, who benefited from a free (for them) education sufficient to put them in the middle class, did not bother to scale their public investment in public higher education to meet the demands of the private employment market. The human capital goal post moved, and it seems no crazier to make a 4-year degree “free” now than it should have seemed in 1940 to make a high school diploma (as opposed to say, a week’s instruction in operating a tractor or a switchboard) “free”. But my generation (X) and generations hence are expected to indenture themselves into their own livelihood.

Was the post-war period such a bad case study in the returns to increased investment in human capital?

76 Boonton January 11, 2015 at 11:40 am

But did the 1940 generation provide free 4 year degrees to their kids? Look at http://www.supportingevidence.com/sitebuilder/images/College_Graduation_Rates_1940-20082-824×567.jpg

Maybe 7% of whites got a 4 yr degree after WWII and that went up to 15% or so by the mid-70’s. Now it’s like 30%+ and rising. It’s one thing for the economy to provide 4 year degrees when 93% of the population isn’t going to get one, now it’s like 70% and going down.

And who really paid during the baby boom years? The top income tax brackets were 70-90%. If you were a baby boomer who went to college, got a well paying job at IBM after, you probably paid for your college help via your income taxes and then some, not your parents.

77 Tom West January 11, 2015 at 11:59 am

I think the point is that a high-school diploma could get you a middle-class job before.

Now, entry into the middle-class requires an expensive diploma. This erects a barrier to entry into the middle-class. since no longer is being smart/conscientious enough to complete high-school enough.

Now you must be smart/conscientious enough to complete college (which might be the same difficulty as high-school was 60 years ago) AND you have the money to pay for college.

78 SC January 11, 2015 at 4:50 pm

That is precisely my point. A high school diploma is scarcely more sufficient for the current employment market than an apprenticeship in cobbling or blacksmithing might have been in 1950. Why is the *as expected* depreciation of a high school diploma not the *starting point* for all discussions of access to higher education?

79 buddyglass January 12, 2015 at 9:22 am

On the other hand, the less able you are to pay for college the less your degree will cost you. And this has become increasingly true over the last 20 years, which is one reason why the “sticker price” for college has gone up so much. More money poured into need-based financial aid. As one example, households with income under $65k can now attend Harvard for free. That probably wasn’t true 20 years ago for a household with income at the same relative percentile.

80 JWatts January 11, 2015 at 12:43 pm

Boonton, that’s IMO the best post you’ve ever written.

81 Nathan W January 11, 2015 at 5:15 pm

“not a huge burdern”? Let me guess, you either never had one or got handed a sweet job straight out of school?

Anyways, I’m more with SC on this one.

82 ummm January 11, 2015 at 6:10 am

the textbooks….that’s where the get you

83 Yankuna January 11, 2015 at 9:40 am

Today you can rent them on Amazon – but it is still not cheap

84 carlolspln January 11, 2015 at 2:43 pm
85 Jan January 11, 2015 at 6:43 am

Ok, the very poor attend free under Pell grants. How about we make it free to everyone else as well, but we address the fear about low completion by requiring anyone who doesn’t finish a 2-year program within say five years to pay back the cost of attendance?

The concern about “pushing more marginals into the degree funnel” is totally unfounded. One of the main goals is for these people to build up their education and study habits so they can transfer to a 4-year degree. If it turns out they aren’t cut our for a bachelors program, guess what, they won’t get in or they will quickly drop out. I think this is a good nudge for a lot of people who may be “marginals” not because they are mediocre or plain dumb, but because they didn’t think about college early enough or had a or kid or whatever. And also remember that community colleges are good for all sorts of training these days. One does not need to be an elite talent to finish a LPN training program so she can get off of food stamps and start making $18/hour.

86 Nathan W January 11, 2015 at 5:16 pm

How do you plan to collect on people who couldn’t finish their program. They probably can barely make ends meet as it is.

87 Bill January 11, 2015 at 7:31 pm

How do you collect today?

88 Jan January 12, 2015 at 6:53 am

Oh have you seen the rules on student loan payments? They ARE collected. Apply the same requirements for these.

89 Careless January 11, 2015 at 9:13 pm

Grade inflation.

90 BC January 11, 2015 at 6:52 am

The Chronicle of Higher Education article seems to provide the right flavor of analysis of the winners and losers. If the government decided to make cigarettes “free” for everyone, would we say that the beneficiaries are mainly middle class smokers or the tobacco companies? It would seem that the biggest beneficiaries are community college instructors and other employees.

The concern that the plan would shift students away from private colleges to community colleges is an interesting one, kind of like (K-12) school choice in reverse. With K-12, we’ve already shifted students from private schools to government schools, and school choice reforms are an attempt to re-open the field to competition. By essentially changing community colleges to a 2-yr extension of K-12, Obama’s plan converts an area where we already have school choice to one that is more like K-12. Then, one can see how this plan benefits primarily community college instructors much like the way government-monopoly K-12 education primarily benefits public school teachers unions.

91 Jan January 11, 2015 at 7:01 am

No offense to private colleges, especially good ones, but a lot more people should be attending community colleges to start their higher education. It’s much more practical because it allows students to remain at home with their families or work and the difference between intro courses at community colleges vs private colleges or state universities is pretty marginal. A lot of families discovered over the past few years that CCs make a heck of a lot of sense financially and the “college experience” can wait. This will proposal would nudge more people into CCs and that is good.

92 chuck martel January 11, 2015 at 9:59 am

Isn’t there a common perception that it’s actually the negativity of the contemporary family, or what passes for one, that makes for bad students? isn’t that why home buyers look to neighborhoods with “good schools”, in reality schools with few brown students? If that’s the case why would it be an advantage for students to remain at home with their dysfunctional families? Is it good for the student to wait for mom’s boyfriend to finish watching porn on the computer before she gets to use it for Geriatric Service 101?

93 Nathan W January 11, 2015 at 5:17 pm

I think your free tobacco to free education analogy is somewhat (lots) misplaced.

94 BC January 12, 2015 at 2:37 am

A lot of people share your cognitive perception. That’s the point. If tobacco or any other industry lobbied to have government provide its product for “free”, we would all recognize that the industry was being subsidized, not just its customers. When the industry is education, however, then many people fail to recognize this fact. Statutory incidence does not equal economic incidence.

95 Nathan W January 13, 2015 at 1:37 pm

Tobacco has negative externalities. Education has positive externalities. That’s why I think it is misplaced.

96 S January 11, 2015 at 7:01 am

This will/would have no noticeable effect on employment or wages.

97 Nathan W January 11, 2015 at 5:17 pm

More people with more skills should mean more jobs at higher pay.

98 Careless January 11, 2015 at 9:15 pm

And?

99 S January 12, 2015 at 10:12 am

More people with more “skills” doesn’t necessarily mean more jobs. You assume this would increase skills, I see no evidence for it.

100 Nathan W January 13, 2015 at 1:39 pm

Have you ever tried to hire someone with some specific skills?

More skills means more jobs. Many jobs go unfilled because you can’t find someone at the price the business can afford. More skills = more jobs.

I agree that it is not always so obvious that more education directly translates into more job-relevant skills. But the opposite assumption would be quite a lot more ridiculous. It will depend on a lot of things.

101 Komori January 12, 2015 at 11:47 am

Seems more likely this will just contribute to degree inflation.

102 Steve Sailer January 11, 2015 at 7:12 am

It’s interesting how the idea of federalism as a “laboratory of democracy” has become totally boring to everybody. Community college tuition level would seem like the perfect policy to decide at the state level — or, for that matter, at the community level. Surely there are existing disparities between states in juco tuition that could be analyzed, but I haven’t heard the President cite any state level analysis supporting his plan.

I first read up in depth in the social sciences when I was 13 in 1972 because the high school debate topic that year was that the federal government should take over all funding of primary and secondary schools. The usual Affirmative argument back then was that some states were poorer than others so they couldn’t afford to give as good education as California (times have changed).

But I don’t even hear that level of reasoning for violating the presumption in favor of federalism anymore. Today people seem to think that the federal government should be the appropriate level for policy making mostly because the federal government is more glamorous, while state-level politics is tedious.

103 BrnK January 11, 2015 at 7:32 am

Because whenever the people of a state decide anything they care about, the federal government rolls in to quash it.

104 Ed January 11, 2015 at 10:30 am

I was going to raise this objection, that under the written Constitution funding community colleges is not a function of the federal government, but I realized that these days this would be pedantic.

105 Robert January 11, 2015 at 11:55 am

But accurate.

106 JWatts January 11, 2015 at 12:51 pm

“It’s interesting how the idea of federalism as a “laboratory of democracy” has become totally boring to everybody. Community college tuition level would seem like the perfect policy to decide at the state level — or, for that matter, at the community level. ”

Actually that was a factor behind the President’s announcement.

“This is the case with the majority of those who’ve taken advantage of Tennessee’s program.
“Tennessee Promise” will welcome its first class of students this fall, but many in the state have already benefited from free community college thanks to tnAchieves.
The Knoxville-based nonprofit has been facilitating free community college and mentorship since 2008. To date, roughly 14,000 students in 27 counties have successfully started community college free of cost in Tennessee. (Completion rates were not immediately available.)”

President Obama was in Knoxville for an event kicking off an expansion of Tennessee’s “free” community college program when he made his announcement.

107 Steve Sailer January 12, 2015 at 12:34 am

How has it worked in Kentucky?

108 Al January 12, 2015 at 2:37 pm

The federal government has, by contrast to a state like California, a marvelous credit rating.

The federal government is like our ultra-rich uncle who just sailed into the harbor on one of his five hundred foot yachts. Naturally, we ask him to add another bedroom to our house while he’s in town. No problem. He can afford it.

109 AB (writing from Sweden) January 11, 2015 at 7:24 am

Pre-school. Spend the money on pre-school for gods sakes. Pre-school teachers are not exactly super high IQ, but they are literate, socially functional and highly-motivated. A few hours contact a week with such people makes a world of difference for poor children.

110 TMC January 11, 2015 at 10:36 am

Plenty of data show that preschool effect lasts a few years at the most. No long lasting effects.

We’ve already added many new teachers and almost have halved the number of student per teacher, also with no effect.

There are too many kids attending college today already, I’m not sure why we want more. As stated above, half the kids attending CC don’t truly have the skills to graduate high school. How about we commit more resources (or redirect current) to allow for high school trade training?

111 JWatts January 11, 2015 at 12:53 pm

“Plenty of data show that preschool effect lasts a few years at the most. No long lasting effects.”

Longitudinal studies indicate that preschool effects are undetectable by the time the student leaves grade school. Pre-school is just an expensive form of day care and it would be cheaper just providing vouchers for actual day care.

112 Nathan W January 11, 2015 at 5:19 pm

I thought conventional wisdom was that it was a good payoff to invest in early childhood education (never mind that it frees women to more easily reduce the interruptions to their career trajectories). I’m curious about this “plenty of data”.

113 Clover January 11, 2015 at 3:23 pm

Teachers have IQ, but presumably the students are all blank slates!

114 Ed January 11, 2015 at 7:47 am

Presidents at historically black colleges are starting to line up against the plan. One went so far as to say the program would spell the end of HBCUs.

It’s a bad idea to have free colleges without a significant admission standard like SAT scores or HS GPA.

115 Bob from Ohio January 11, 2015 at 12:50 pm

“One went so far as to say the program would spell the end of HBCUs.”

A good thing. Most of these colleges provide a mediocre education (or worse) and are no longer needed because blacks can go to regular colleges.

It is an obsolete system.

116 Clover January 11, 2015 at 3:22 pm

A silver lining!

117 rayward January 11, 2015 at 7:58 am

The federal government spends more on higher education than the total tuition paid to all public colleges and universities. Think about that: if the government limited its spending to public colleges and universities, federal spending would go down and a college education would be “free”. Of course, that’s not going to happen, and not just because of the influence, and benefits to society, of private colleges and universities. The higher education industry would collapse if the government ended the largesse, an industry in which the students serve only to justify the largesse.

118 CC January 11, 2015 at 8:19 am

“As Reihan Salam of National Review notes, community college tuition is already low. In fact, it’s zero, on average, for lower-income families, after taking financial aid into account.”

Maybe I’m missing something, but how can the average be zero? Are some people getting paid to go, or is it zero for *all* lower-income families?

119 TMC January 11, 2015 at 10:38 am

Living stipends? Travel vouchers?

120 JWatts January 11, 2015 at 1:05 pm

“Are some people getting paid to go”

Pell Grant’s aren’t limited to the cost of tuition. If you qualify for the maximum (currently $5,645), you get the full amount even if tuition is half that amount, as long as you use the funds for educational expenses. And apparently that’s interpreted fairly broadly.

“After paying tuition, you can apply excess Pell Grant money to other expenses directly related to the cost of attendance, such as required fees, textbooks and supplies. If your college keeps the funds in a campus account for you, you may apply the grant money directly to textbooks and other supplies you buy at the campus store. If you still have excess, save it for the next term’s tuition or apply it to your campus food or housing expenses.

http://budgeting.thenest.com/happens-pell-grant-tuition-23444.html

121 Nathan W January 11, 2015 at 5:20 pm

Keep in mind that you still have to pay bills after tuition is covered, and it’s not as easy to pay the bills when you have to pass all those classes.

122 Robert January 11, 2015 at 8:48 am

Instead of community college, spend the money on vouchers for K-12 education giving inner-city minorities some choice and providing the monopoly that is publik edukashun some competition. Of course, it’s doubtful that Obama and the Dems would ever put children above the teacher unions. .

123 Boonton January 11, 2015 at 11:50 am

Yawn.

124 Nathan W January 11, 2015 at 5:21 pm

Or they could try to reduce the highly unequal funding in grade schools which contributes to unequal access of children from poor communities to higher education.

125 Careless January 11, 2015 at 9:19 pm

Heh

126 liberalarts January 11, 2015 at 8:59 am

What is the actual average cost per student at a cc, rather than the price paid by students? Aside from the Pell grants that come with the students? I presume that the tuition is so low because of considerable state and local subsidies, and that means that cc education can not be as easily expanded as a way to control societal education costs as one might initially think.

127 Eric January 11, 2015 at 9:16 am

How long until George Mason’s next branch campus (which may even be located on its main campus) is a community college with courses that automatically transfer to the main university when a student automatically transfers after x credit hours with a 2.0 GPA? Sounds like going from sophomore to junior but with extra subsidies.

128 CJ January 11, 2015 at 9:32 am

I think it’s worth noting that there are two margins to Community College attendance: 1) the margin where the counterfactual is no post-secondary education and 2) the margin where the counterfactual is attending (and being at the low end of the distribution of) a 4-year school. Cecilia Rouse has a fairly famous paper on the workings of these two margins, and finds that most of the action is on margin 1, but that there is definitely a diversion effect for a group of students on margin 2. My question is if that effect becomes more pronounced with a big announcement and an attention grabbing concept like “free” school.

Also it’s worth noting that although net price is zero (and really, slightly negative according to college board averages) for community college’s right now, students probably do not make choices based on net price, but rather sticker price or some hazy sense of “what college costs.” And so changing price really ought to induce some greater enrollment.

The paper: http://econpapers.repec.org/article/besjnlbes/v_3a13_3ay_3a1995_3ai_3a2_3ap_3a217-24.htm

129 rayward January 11, 2015 at 9:41 am

Many two-year community colleges are converting to four-year colleges, including the one near my home, but that’s another matter. Two-year colleges were called junior colleges in the 1960s when I graduated from high school. For several reasons I didn’t go directly to college. However, I took several courses at the local junior college just to maintain study habits. Back then, the statistics for junior colleges were startling: less than 10% of students who enrolled in junior college completed the requirements for the two-year degree, but over 90% who did went on to get their BS degree or BA degree. I suspect that the statistics today are similar. That said, as I’ve commented before, the higher education industry is in for a big adjustment, as young people choose not to go to college because the rewards don’t match the cost. Sure, a degree from an elite college will reap rewards, but not the degree from the middling state university, at least not for the lower half on which the higher education industry depends. I attended my state’s flagship state university, and I never paid more than a few hundred dollars in tuition per semester, including while attending that university’s law school. Today, that law school charges almost $20,000 per semester. I was self-supporting and graduated with no student debt. That’s highly unlikely today. I was recruited by dozens of law firms. That’s highly unlikely today.

130 derek January 11, 2015 at 9:51 am

So the K-12 system doesn’t provide a basic education needed for a job, so the solution is to keep young people in school for two more years.

That should work.

131 Enrique January 11, 2015 at 9:54 am

Shouldn’t the word ‘free’ in Tyler’s title be in scare quotes?

132 TMC January 11, 2015 at 10:50 am

On an econ blog, yes. Only fools believe anything is free.

133 dwb January 11, 2015 at 10:05 am

No, Nno, a thousand times no.

First, if you go through what a lot of kids have to do in college, its take remedial classes to re-learn stuff they should have learned in HS. In Maryland, with its supposedly good schools, over 50% have to take some sort of remedial classes. In poorer counties, over 65% of the kids need to remedial classes.

Second, college is expensive because productivity growth in college has been slow. People sit in classrooms (and doodle), much like in 1400. What we need to do to make college cheaper is to find new ways to deliver education for the same price.

What we need is improved HS education long before free college.

134 Ann K January 11, 2015 at 10:06 am

Common Core trickles upward!

135 Bill January 11, 2015 at 10:37 am

I. Maybe we should look at this from a different perspective that hasn’t been raised or discussed.

Some of the commentators above mentioned that community college attendees are poorly prepared. I believe that and agree with those observations.

But, what was missed is this: students attending community college who need remediation classes have to pay for those classes without receiving college credit. They take a college level algebra course that doesn’t give them credit or a writing class that doesn’t give them credit, because their high schools failed to prepare them.

If Obama’s proposal covers remediations–that students who take algebra in community college without credit don’t have to pay for it, or take an English writing course and don’t have to pay for it–so much the better, even if they later drop out.

II. Obama’s proposal is a starting round of a different mix of proposals that will be offered by others: Subsidizing employers to hire and train employees on the job.

136 TMC January 11, 2015 at 10:53 am

I agree with you the remedial courses should be free to the students. Then taken directly from his high school’s budget.

137 Bill January 11, 2015 at 10:54 am

If you are interested in this problem, which was raised to me by a niece who is involved in college placement, you can find information here: http://www.ncsl.org/research/education/improving-college-completion-reforming-remedial.aspx

138 TMC January 11, 2015 at 11:23 am

First paragraph:

“The number of high school students who enroll in college after graduation is on the rise. Many students, however, are surprised to discover they have failed placement tests and must enroll in remedial courses. This detour from college-level courses can be costly in terms of both time and money. It often can mean the end of the college road for the students.”

How about ” It should mean the end of the college road for the student.”

139 Bill January 11, 2015 at 11:32 am

TMC,

You need to take a remedial English course offered at your community college (for a fee). The antecedent is “Many students” in the preceding sentence and therefore your suggested correction “end of the college road for the student” is incorrect.

140 Boonton January 11, 2015 at 11:52 am

How about ” It should mean the end of the college road for the student.”

Why so wimpy. How about “it should mean they should be burned at the stake and then their parents should be billed for the gasoline and wood!”

141 derek January 11, 2015 at 12:07 pm

How about ‘end of employment for their k-12 teachers’.

142 Careless January 11, 2015 at 9:24 pm

Yes, anyone who doesn’t want to waste money with trying to educate people past twelfth grade must want to murder them.

143 Boonton January 12, 2015 at 12:04 pm

So if your kid graduates high school with good grades and good basic college skills it’s a testament to how great your kid is. If he doesn’t it is the fault of his teachers.

144 Careless January 12, 2015 at 2:53 pm

Well, that sort of thinking is stupid, but you’re entitled to your opinions.

145 Boonton January 12, 2015 at 4:37 pm

Not at all, A teacher is responsible for an entire class. That means she has to allocate time and resources between those who are exceptionally ahead and those who are behind. This is different than, say, a private one-on-one tutor who is accountable for the entire performance of her student.

I don’t buy the idea that the school is solely responsible for the outcome, it is at least a two way street between student and school (and student’s parents). My point was that often people take a lazy reading of this…hence they are eager to associate good outcomes with their kids but bad outcomes with ‘bad teachers/schools’.

A kid may reach a community college needing remedial help in English or math for a host of reasons only some of which are truely bad schooling.

146 Careless January 12, 2015 at 5:50 pm

Ok, if you don’t believe the stupid thing you said, why did you think it was relevant? Was there some suggestion that someone else believed it?

147 chuck martel January 11, 2015 at 12:03 pm

Who says that high school is supposed to be preparation for further education of any kind? Although the learning process goes on to some extent through the entirety of an individual’s life, there’s no reason to assume that the process should involve another four or more years at some institution. From the beginning high school has been meant to mold adolescents into complacent adults willing to share common values and follow the rules and to a large extent it’s been a success. More specialized education is another thing altogether.

148 Bill January 11, 2015 at 2:17 pm

Re: “Who says that high school is supposed to be preparation for further education of any kind.”

I say it is for those who want to go to college.

What you meant to say was that all students may not want to go to college. OK, agreed. But, logically, this does not mean that for those students who want to go to college that high school should not prepare them for college because “all” students do not want to go to college.

149 chuck martel January 12, 2015 at 7:01 am

I said exactly what I meant to say. There is no logic in assuming that the high school should prepare students for college. The years of education from age five to age 18 are meant to prepare people for adulthood in the absence of parents that are at work. College might be a goal for some of these individuals but it’s only one of many possible paths. Why should every student follow a college preparation when they have no intention of attending one?

150 Bill January 12, 2015 at 11:39 am

Now you’re creating a straw man when you say “Why should every student follow a college preparation when they have no intention of attending one.” Of course, not everyone in high school wants to go to college, but that is not the point, is it. There are students in high school who want to go to college and are not prepared for it, and need to take remedial classes. There are those outside of college who need to take remedial classes to get into college later.

Your statement says: “Who says that high school is to be preparation for further education of any kind?”

For those who want to attend college, it must be.

151 Careless January 12, 2015 at 2:54 pm

But aside from dropouts, they’re not unprepared for introductory college courses because their high schools didn’t offer suitable educations.

152 Bob from Ohio January 11, 2015 at 12:47 pm

It is a Potemkin proposal. Obama knows it will not be passed by a GOP congress and since it involves significant state spending, widespread state opposition outside of deep blue states.

Purely political, aimed at helping youth vote turnout in 2016 and paint the GOP as heartless.. No intention to actually get it done.

Maybe Congress should counter by passing it but coupled with an Obamacare repeal, Keystone pipeline ok and other GOP policy goals. Needs to be revenue neutral after all.

153 Bill January 12, 2015 at 11:34 am

Bob,

I think the politics is Republican.

Imagine you are a Republican legislator trying to push through a trade pact that will lose jobs for some of your constituents. Ever wonder why every trade pact passed by a Republican congress has a trade assistance and workforce development component.

154 Education Realist January 11, 2015 at 1:01 pm

Many people have pointed out, accurately, that most low income kids are stymied not by cost, but by the endless series of non-credit remedial classes they have to take.

These are a barrier. Be grateful for that barrier. College professors and administrators are under tremendous pressure to give diplomas to black and Hispanic non-remedial students who can’t read, write, or add at anything approaching a college level. The pressure to give passing grades to remedial students is considerable, but nowhere near as tremendous as it is once they pass the barrier. Plus, the sheer awareness of how much time and money it will cost to get to credit-bearing courses discourages a good group of utterly non-functional students.

Research shows that students who are given the option to skip remedial courses actually pass their credit courses (see above for at least one reason why). As a result, there’s tremendous pressure to end remedial courses, particularly in community college.

Obama’s “free community college for all” will likely speed this process up. We’re already on the path to making college diplomas worthless. This will exacerbate the issue.

BTW, Asian international students are often kept in remedial hell, too. They cheat on TOEFL, but the colleges figure that out and keep them in remedial English courses and collect fees for as long as the students are willing to stick around. Figure there’s still a lot of cheating keeping them out of remedial courses.

The first thing I thought of when I heard of this free community college is the impact it will have on high schools, which could go several ways.

“I agree with you the remedial courses should be free to the students. Then taken directly from his high school’s budget. ”

Hahahaah. You know that pressure I mentioned above? High schools face it, too. We put kids into classes they don’t want but are required to take because of pressure from the feds and other idiots stupid enough to think that the reason kids are remedial is that their teachers failed them–or lied to them. Mostly, we did neither (exception: all minority schools, charters or otherwise).

The underlying question at the bottom of all this: when will we stop lying to ourselves about ability? Until then, we’ll just waste huge amounts of people’s time and federal/state dollars.

155 Patrick Boyle January 11, 2015 at 1:08 pm

I had been teaching statistics and math at night at a small university. But I was changing careers into computers at my regular job so I moved into teaching computer science for my evening job. But I had to break into computer science first. I needed to teach computers somewhere.

That’s how I came to run a ‘flunk out class’. Obama doesn’t seem to understand the necessity of this kind of class. As I remember there were about 200-250 students in the class. It was held in an auditorium classroom with an entrance on both the first and the second floors. The department head explained to me that my job was to get rid of as many of the excess students as possible so as to ‘protect’ his COBOL class. Each semester they had some poor rookie instructor assigned to this thankless task.

Quite a few of the class couldn’t speak English. Many others confused computer science with computer games. This was in the Bay Area near San Francisco. The county policy was to enroll anyone and there was no tuition. The college (Contra Costa Community College) defended itself from being overrun with dummies by these ‘flunk out’ classes.

The text book was mostly just pictures of people using computers until the last few chapters. This was a mistake. The unprepared and hopelessly stupid people sitting in all those seats would stick around for half a semester thinking they were keeping up. They would of course flunk out, but only late in the semester.

So I taught this intro class backwards. I taught the last chapters in the book first. For the first class I did number systems. I showed them how to convert decimal to binary and hexadecimal. That got the class down to about thirty students right away. I was a success. I had quickly thinned the herd.

That was more than twenty years ago. I went on to teach more substantive classes at many different colleges, universities and junior colleges. Only once did I have to run a ‘flunk out’ class. It’s fun to teach motivated and prepared adult students in subjects they are eager to learn. That’s why schools have to get rid of dumb ones first.

156 Harun January 11, 2015 at 1:27 pm

This was a completely political ploy designed around the word FREE.

It sounds great, and altruistic, and any opposition can be called names “mean, anti-poor” etc.

I’m sure there was a focus group, because on Facebook several people who are not really political really liked this.

(and by like, I mean they didn’t think about it, just posted a link. One guy said it would student debt in half…uh no.)

157 Rich Berger January 11, 2015 at 2:18 pm

Expanding on the notion of “free”, what about the taxpayers who must be relieved of their earnings to make it “free”? Also, as noted above, the cost of CC is currently very low, so those who are induced to go by the free tuition at the margin are those for whom the value of CC is even lower. Not only that, they may be substituting CC for paid work, so their is an opportunity cost to going to CC.

I do not see that Obama has offered any evidence that the benefits of this proposal outweigh the costs, but cost/benefit analyses are anathema to the left.

158 Harun January 11, 2015 at 2:44 pm

But its a big deal as young people are now all on reddit and hearing from Aussies and Germans about how their college education is free – “man, America sucks, etc. etc.” So I suspect this will be a good topic for vote-mining for a long time. And the next, obvious ratchet would be university being free, too.

I’m not even really against this, in theory. We could find ways to reduce the cost of K-12 and university education and use that money to subsidise students.

But we have a real risk, as with the ACA, to not reduce the cost but to expand use. Expanding something without worrying about the costs is very tempting for politicians. Reducing costs is not – that’s hard work that upsets interests.

One of the root causes of the need for CC is that high school isn’t cutting it for people. Remedial skills have to be re-taught because the kids played at being too cool for school in high school and now realize they need a job eventually. Or the schools were horrible, or some combination thereof. But fixing that would mess with entrenched interests, culture, etc.

So, its easier to expand the CC system.

This reminds me of quality control rules. America used to make a bunch of cars, each with defects and then re-work them at the end of the line. Japan would instead stop the line at any defect, and work to resolve the issue there, so that there would be very little re-work needed. Re-work is wasted money and often leads to worse quality.

So, instead of stopping the line in high school, we graduate them and send them to community college for re-work.

And, while many community colleges have vocational programs, the culture including the president, keep pushing academics: university degrees. When in reality, the kids who are marginal probably would do better with welder cert or even a class on how to show up on time.

159 Nathan W January 11, 2015 at 5:25 pm

Yeah, and just look how free uni drove Oz and Deutchland into the ground. They’re practically on the verge of joining the third world, aren’t they.

160 sort_of_knowledgeable January 12, 2015 at 1:02 am

Free uni in Oz only lasted from 1973 to 1988.

161 Bill January 11, 2015 at 3:04 pm

Rich,

This could also be just another form of federal revenue sharing…where the fed picks up state and local contributions to vo tech and community college costs. Let’s say a state or local community is currently subsidizing tuition. Now it has the incentive to cut the local subsidy and raise tuition, since the federal government will be covering 3/4 of the tuition.

162 Bill January 11, 2015 at 2:58 pm

one thing I learned from this analysis and the comments:

Tax cuts in 2008-9 as part of the stimulus package do not count as stimulus because they don’t show up in Tyler’s chart as government expenditures. Nor did anyone mention this until now. Was just waiting for all the comments to come in before saying this.

How quickly we forget.

163 Bill January 11, 2015 at 2:59 pm

wrong post: this was meant to go to the austerity post.

164 Clover January 11, 2015 at 3:13 pm

As Reihan Salam of National Review notes, community college tuition is already low. In fact, it’s zero, on average, for lower-income families, after taking financial aid into account. Vox’s Libby Nelson wrote, “Community college tuition for poorer students is often entirely covered by the need-based Pell Grant.”

One potential implication is that by making community college universally free, the government is mostly reducing the cost for higher-income families.

Under this plan would they still receive Pell grants they could use for “living expenses?” I assume so, so this means it would lead to an incentive for more marginal students who wouldn’t otherwise attend community college to attend. Even for the dullards students, sitting in a room and listening to an algebra lecture is better than flipping burgers or doing real work if all your “living expenses” are payed for. The same principle applies to rich(ish) kids who get their parents to pay for college.

The main beneficiaries of this will be the workers at the community colleges, reliable democrat voters. The new students will benefit only marginally from a community college degree, but they’ll benefit from sitting in an air conditioned room for two years! It’s not going to guarantee them the “American dream,” this plan will make a community college degree worth even less than it is today. Nor will it lead to a new generation of engineers as liberal ideology would have you believe. Ultimately the problem is the problem of our late capitalist system’s inability to provide the working class with “the American dream.” I agree with Tyler, if better education is what we need, the main problem is at the “family” level.(wink, wink)

165 mulp January 11, 2015 at 9:34 pm

How do you explain how a society that provided “free” college or votech in the 50s and 60s did so well at creating jobs, and a middle class life?

In the 50s and 60s, employers were very involved in these government two year schools because they wanted qualified workers.

Today employers simply call for increased immigration so they can hire qualified workers trained by free government schools in other nations.

166 Clover January 12, 2015 at 4:20 pm

Mainly because the economy produced high-paying jobs for the graduates.

Employers call for increased immigration because they want to pay reduced wages. If there were a great shortage of those kind of jobs today compared to in those days the workers would be making a lot more.

167 Bobby January 11, 2015 at 5:19 pm

I struggle to take this proposal seriously as we’ve off shored manufacturing and we’re in the middle of off shoring professional work. On top of that, we’re directing investment capital toward finding efficiencies and consolidation of corporate/business power instead of R&D and expanding into new areas. What will these people be doing?

I think we’re long on talent and short on opportunity, not the other way around.

Globalization has put us in the situation were we constantly have to provide “giveaways” to suppress insurrection.

168 mulp January 11, 2015 at 9:27 pm

If we have offshored the jobs, then we must offshore the consumers.

Unless you believe in free lunch economics which holds that customers are never workers and customers are never workers, and customers get money for nothing.

169 Dan Hanson January 11, 2015 at 7:14 pm

Does Obama’s cost estimate include the inevitable inflation of tuition prices once all this new money is injected into the community college system? Or does he believe that supply can be expanded rapidly enough to keep up with the increased demand?

It seems to me that what’s likely to happen is that community colleges will respond by raising tuition, and the people who will be hurt will be those who don’t qualify for the program for whatever reason, but who will have to pay higher tuition regardless.

And if this money is only available if you attend a university transfer course, that seems like a real bias against vocational training, which is supposed to be a community college’s main mission, isn’t it?

170 Bill January 11, 2015 at 7:30 pm

Besides this serving as disguised federal revenue sharing, this program also will attract persons who could go to a regular college to go to a lower or no cost community college first. The pool and mix of students in community colleges might change. And, those students will not be taking out a loan to attend college. Egads, regular colleges might actually have to lower tuition to compete with community colleges.

171 mulp January 11, 2015 at 9:24 pm

You mean like the State legislators paying the 10% match of Medicaid have allowed the doctors and hospitals to jack up the prices of health care to Medicaid beneficiaries??

I am old enough to remember when community college or two years votech was virtually free, as recently as the 60s and 70s.

Then conservatives argued that charging students more for tuition and adopting free market competition methods where the government colleges are required to compete with private schools for students by offering the things students wanted in colleges instead of the dictates of political elites elected and appointed to fund and operate the schools.

In other words, the problem with government colleges is they charged too little and relied on price to get customers instead of investing in a social life and luxury dorms to attract students willing to go deep in debt to attend for life experience.

This is the same up sell logic that has increased the standard starter house from 800-1000 square feet to 2000 square feet minimum, and the lot from the width of the house (rowhouse) to one acre lots.

The argument is that you should go deep in debt because that will create the wealth over a lifetime or earning or capital gains. What is a $100,000 in debt when you will earn a million more or an extra $100,000 in mortgage when the capitals gains will be increased to $250,000. Classic money for nothing sales tactics.

172 bellisaurius January 12, 2015 at 5:19 am

Let’s think about what the marginal student might be like:

Good standardized test scores
So-so grades
Lacking motivation
Doesn’t have parents who really care what they do about future because they don’t come from that kind of background.

So, that person would otherwise start a job and figure “I might get to college eventually” because they don’t otherwise realize there’s stuff out there to help pay for college (it’s not like I went to bad school, Lane over here in chicago. I just figured it was lots of money and scholarships were all there were to pay for it- not something you get with a 2.2 gpa). Sure I did a little research, but it ony made it look more hopeless. So, I got a job, and eventually thought ‘hey how about the military?’, and that worked.

If I knew going in “hey I could go to community college for free”, I’d have done it in a heartbeat. As it was, I took the other well known government plan, the GI Bill (which was useless when I got out, btw. Like 400 dollars a month while school’s session.) because I knew about it since it’s so well known, and rather easy to grasp (which is surprisingly rare for govt programs- try to figure out how to pay all the entities you need to for your babysitter’s taxes on your own. Not like that stuff’s in an easy to get place).

The student who this is helping is the one who really has no idea how to work a system, but is otherwise bright enough to recognize a good deal that has a simple slogan.

173 Careless January 12, 2015 at 3:27 pm

Do you think there are many people like that out there? Honest question. I don’t, although I admit it’s possible.

174 bellisaurius January 12, 2015 at 8:07 pm

No idea either but it’s basically the question I think we should be asking. The simplicity is appealing as I said, and it’s probably cheaper on society then sending them to four years schools (plus a 30 person class is a heck of a lot easier then a 100 person class where you have to make appointments to see a professor.

175 Jay January 12, 2015 at 8:18 am

We don’t actually think the administration thinks it is a good idea do we? He knows it has zero chance to get through congress and just wants to propose it to signal he cares.

176 Libertarian Treehugger January 12, 2015 at 10:09 am

If you’re interested, here’s a very interesting piece about this free community college plan: http://www.libertybriefing.com/articles/free-college-obamas-latest-plan-to-rob-you-blind/357

177 Kyle January 12, 2015 at 11:02 am

Community College is not generally free due to pell grants. I am part of the 3% that started at community college and got my bachelors (based on data at the time). You have to sign up for pell grant by march 31 to get it in the fall. A lot of the community college students are unaware, like me my first year, or they start in the winter or spring rendering them ineligible for pell.

178 David Koziol January 12, 2015 at 11:45 am

Why not just extend high school by two year? Given the existence of AP classes, high school students already take college level classes in high school.

179 Bill January 12, 2015 at 12:04 pm

Good point. Although, do you want a 21 year old roaming the corridors?

180 Careless January 12, 2015 at 3:28 pm

Why would there be a 21 year old in high school if you extended it by two years? And what’s the specific problem with 21 year olds that isn’t there with 20 or 19 year olds?

181 Jay January 12, 2015 at 5:31 pm

Can purchase alcohol and bring it on school property for those not of age doesn’t raise a flag to you?

182 Careless January 12, 2015 at 5:52 pm

That’s your worry? That a kid who’s been held back twice and is in his sixth year of high school besides that is going to bring alcohol to school so underage kids can get drunk? Do you hear a lot about 19 year olds doing that?

183 Bill January 12, 2015 at 12:07 pm

Perhaps remediation costs should be picked up by the high school, so they are invented to do a good job the first time.

184 Education Realist January 12, 2015 at 1:39 pm

“Good standardized test scores So-so grades Lacking motivation Doesn’t have parents who really care what they do about future because they don’t come from that kind of background. ”

Hahahaha. You are delusional.

If ONLY “good standardized test scores” represented the marginal student. That’s a world where no problems exist.

Kids with “good standardized test scores” are, for the most part, going to college. If not, they are probably white and opting for trades or the military.

No. When we talk about a “marginal” candidate that is helped by free college, we would be talking about a highly motivated kid with barely 8th or 9th grade skills who works hard and did his or her best to improve his basic skills in classes led by teachers who were forced to teach advanced topics to kids who are barely literate.

And that kid decided, wisely, to skip college because while he might make a bit more money, he’d be taking on a load of debt. So now it’s free. No risk.

Of course, we already have plenty of barely literate kids in community college (and public 4-years) because lots of kids aren’t wise. So it’s just a few more.

That’s what I meant earlier. It’s not making any difference to college. The only issue is whether “free college” changes high school expectations.

185 Dan Hanson January 12, 2015 at 3:48 pm

As someone who actually attended a community college before going to university, I find some of the assumptions here laughably wrong.

For example: bellisaurius writes:

“Let’s think about what the marginal student might be like:
Good standardized test scores So-so grades Lacking motivation Doesn’t have parents who really care what they do about future because they don’t come from that kind of background.”

In my experience, that’s not true at all. First of all, only a small percentage of students in Community Colleges are in a university transfer program. The majority of the students are in vocational programs like bookkeeping, plumbing, hairdressing, IT, etc.

Also, many of the university transfer programs are also 1 and 2-year trade programs in their own right. I did a 2-year Computer/Electrical engineering technology program that was directly transferable to an engineering degree program at university, but the large majority of graduates did not do that. Instead, they went straight into industry as technologists. So they would count in any statistics of college students who started a ‘university transfer’ program but never got a 4-year degree, even though they never had any intention of doing so.

As for the background of the average student, in my class there were no dumb students, or students lacking motivation. There were a LOT of adult students, including me.

A common scenario is that you get out of high school and you need to go to work if you’re poor. So you work for 2 or 3 years, save up some money, but you still can’t afford to go to university- often because you live in a place that does not have a university, but lots of medium-sized cities have a community college. So doing a 2-year program there is much less expensive if it allows you to live at home.

I would guess that a significant percentage of people in a specific university transfer program are not any dumber or less motivated than the kids who went straight to university, but instead are kids who lack the financial resources to leave home, move to another city, and pay university tuition.

Consider the comparative cost for a kid living in a town with a community college, but for whom the nearest university would require moving away from home. The college might cost $2,000 per year in tuition, and room and board is free. The state university, on the other hand, is $8,000 per year for tuition, and it will cost $15,000 to live away from home. Total cost if you do the first two years at CC: $50,000. Cost if you do all four years at State U: $92,000. More importantly, those first two years cost only $4,000, giving you more time to work part-time and in the summer to save for your last two, more expensive years.

For kids coming from a low-income background, or lower-middle class kids in small towns and cities that do not have a university, that is often the only real path to a degree they can afford. It has nothing to do with their work ethic or how devoted their parents are.

Community Colleges also cater to people who screwed up in high school, but matured and realized they blew an opportunity to get into a good school. Community Colleges give them a chance to catch up and redeem themselves. And of course the large percentage of students are there doing classes for a trade to get their various certifications.

I would hazard a guess that the average student in a community college is at least as motivated as an average university student. And speaking for my college, the workload was a hell of a lot heavier than it was when I got to university. In college I had 35 hour per week course loads, 5 labs for which all prep and report writing had to be done on our own time. In our 2 year program we took differential and integral calculus, boolean algebra, linear algebra, partial differential equations, and complex functions. When I went to university I got credit for the full first two years of math in the physics program, plus a 3rd year math course.

Needless to say, a dumb, poorly motivated student wouldn’t have lasted a week. Whereas in University I knew plenty of students who were there on the 4-year party program, taking ‘general studies’ on their parent’s dime. In college, most of the people around me were working class, paying their own way, working part time, and in general working their asses off to make up for poverty or mistakes made earlier.

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