The Plan To Make Community College Free, Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Jan 12 2015 @ 3:00pm

This post is getting a lot of response from the in-tray:

Your skeptical readers perhaps have not read the full proposal from Obama:

Building High-Quality Community Colleges: Community colleges will be expected to offer programs that either (1) are academic programs that fully transfer to local public four-year colleges and universities, giving students a chance to earn half of the credit they need for a four-year degree, or (2) are occupational training programs with high graduation rates and that lead to degrees and certificates that are in demand among employers.

So the proposal appears to include the kind of “vocational and trade school” training your readers prefer. It limits participation to proven programs in high-demand fields, to improve the chances of employment. So when one of your readers writes, “The president ought to be focusing on expanding opportunity for those who either choose not to go to college or cannot afford to do so,” that’s exactly what this program is intended to do.

Another snipes:

You quoted a reader: “Less people should be going to college. I’ve been to college. I have my degree. Want to buy it for $100?” That’s too high a price for a degree from someone who writes “Less people” instead of “Fewer people.” Sorry! Couldn’t resist.

Another refers to that quoted reader as Judge Smails, seen in the above video. Several readers sound off more substantively:

I love Obama’s plan. He is working within the infrastructure that we have but making changes that will help millions. It’s exactly what he did with the ACA and immigration. It’s his MO. God bless him.

My local community colleges are a mix of transfer students and trade students. The transfer students are taking typical freshman and sophomore classes to prepare for transfer to a four-year college.  The trade students take some basic freshman classes (writing, math), but they are focused on exactly the type of job training that your reader thinks they should be getting. They are learning auto repair, engine repair, repair and maintenance of HVAC systems, building trades, horticulture, culinary arts, emergency medical technician, early childhood education, paramedic, medical laboratory technician, radiology tech, criminal justice/police skills, nurse assistant, RN nursing, etc. None of these kids are going to get rich doing this stuff, but they are learning skills that can provide them with a middle-class income.

Another adds, “My school (Orange Coast College) also has a helicopter mechanic training program; if I recall correctly, starting salaries for graduates are near $100k.” Another points out:

Many of these jobs were, not too long ago, learned on the job; many were apprenticeship programs, where a master taught apprentices and journeymen while they earned pay for their work. This, sadly, is becoming rare. There has been a shift of training from the employer to employees, and this is particularly true of what’s called the skilled trades.

So the presumption that much of this work is “unskilled” is elitist. If your furnace fails, as mine was, you will hope the person who comes to repair it is highly skilled and proficient at the job. If your car breaks down, you want a skilled mechanic. And if you go out to eat, you’ll probably want the restaurant managed by someone who comprehends how to safely handle food. You want x-ray techs who don’t bombard you with too much radiation.

Your plumber cannot be outsourced; she needs to come to your home or office to do her job. And she needs someplace to learn how to do that job if master plumbers aren’t shouldering the burden of training the next generation of plumbers. That’s where community colleges really matter; and where they offer a wealth of skills for young adults.

Another shifts the debate:

I have no problem with making community college free if we have the resources to spend on educational programs. For one thing, community colleges do provide a lot of the trade and vocational classes that your readers are interested in. My brother dropped out of a four-year liberal arts college and years later has started taking computer classes at a community college that are really beneficial for his job. And it’s much cheaper than traditional college, though it is still expensive for someone who doesn’t make that much to begin with. So making it free would definitely be beneficial for some people, like my brother.

But in a world where educational spending is not unlimited, I just cannot get behind the idea of spending more money on college degrees when we know that early education can make a much bigger difference in a community. I was so much more supportive of the idea of universal pre-K than this. Study after study has demonstrated that getting kids into preschools, even for just a few hours a week, makes serious long-term differences in people’s lives. If we are going to spend money on education, can we at least spend it on programs that we know will make a difference in a big way rather than on programs that might help a few people?

One more reader:

It’s been estimated that it would cost approximately $15-30 billion per year to make ALL public colleges completely free for everyone. Sure, it’s a lot of money, but for some perspective, we spent nearly a trillion dollars to remake a foreign country called Iraq. So for what we paid for that disastrous war (which we’re still fighting), we could have paid for public college for everyone for as many as 66 years!