#FreeCommunityCollege Series - Ben Kohl

This week, we're running a series of posts on #FreeCommunityCollege from professionals from across the industry. The goal is to cover the basics and offer differing viewpoints to begin the conversation before our chat on the topic this Thursday at 9PM ET.

Today's post comes from Ben Kohl, Assistant Director for the Office of Student Financial Assistance at Kansas State University. Ben is also currently the President of the Kansas Association of Financial Aid Administrators and is completing his PhD at Kansas State in Student Affairs in Higher Education Administration. Read more about Ben here or connect with him on Twitter.

The concept of 2 free years of community college for anyone “willing to work for it” has now been talked about for a week. President Obama announced his America’s College Promise proposal on Friday, in Pellissippi, Tennessee. Since then, the proposal has been received with unbridled celebration and viewed with careful skepticism.

 This plan is subject to Congressional approval and many consider it DOA, as reported in the Wall Street Journal. The plan depends on $60 billion from state governments over the next decade to defray tuition and fees for anyone who attends community college at least half-time, maintains 2.5 GPA, and is on track to complete an academic program or transfer to a 4-year university. The federal government would provide the remaining 75% of the cost of the program. If all 50 states choose to implement the President's new community college proposal, it could save a full-time community college student $3,800 in tuition per year on average and benefit roughly 9 million students each year.

 You are probably interested in understanding what this #FreeCommunityCollege proposal means for enrollment management purposes. As someone who has worked for over a decade in higher educational financial aid, I pose a number of questions I’m considering and seeking answers to before making a judgment about the proposal. 

  1. How will free tuition at community colleges improve enrollment rates and student success? NCES shows that at community colleges (2-year institutions), 31% of 1st time, full-time students graduate with an Associates Degree or transfer to a 4-year institution within 3 years. Research demonstrates that tuition and federal/state grant aid do influence enrollment rates.
  2. How should community colleges prepare for the influx of enrollment and student success? Right now, 45% of the nation’s 24 million college students are enrolled at a community college.
  3. How will direct federal funding encourage community colleges to improve? Elementary and Secondary Education Act (No Child Left Behind)
  4. How will America’s College Promise keep up with the increasing higher educational costs to effectively deliver higher education? Is there an inflationary factor in the plan to account for increasing costs of faculty and staff salaries, facilities, equipment, etc.? All the details of America’s College Promise that exist right now.
  5. How might America’s College Promise limit innovations from the private education sector? If the plan is only for public community colleges, it has the potential of becoming a public monopoly similar to our primary and secondary educational systems.
  6. What are the implications of America’s College Promise for 4-year higher educational institutions? 

America’s College Promise may be up against tremendous political opposition. However, President Obama has introduced an innovative idea that could be written into law with some political massaging and debate. America’s College Promise may not be written into law soon, but I think we will see a similar idea as law within the next 5 years. Stay tuned and let your voice be heard.