By Julia Huebner
President Obama proposed a plan to provide free two-year community college for “anyone who’s willing to work for it” during his State of the Union address on January 21. The President’s vision would save the average community college student $3,800 and benefit nine million students per year, according to the White House.
Obama’s plan is partially modeled after the Chicago Star Scholarship, which provides free community college to one of seven City Colleges of Chicago (CCC) for CPS students. Upon the scholarship announcement, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who spearheaded the initiative, commented that all shoulds should “be able to pursue the dream of college without accumulating burdensome debt.” After applicants complete the necessary paperwork, the CCC will “provide waivers to cover tuition, fees, and books for up to three years,” according to CPS. These students will also face requirements, including maintaining a 3.0 GPA, according to the Chicago Tribune. Emanuel is confident that the program will provide a “ticket to the middle class” for those who take advantage.
Christopher Herrera ‘15 looks forward to seizing this opportunity. The high school senior explained that “going to a great high school for free … helped me get out of a gang-infested neighborhood.” Herrera lauded the message that City leaders are sending high school seniors. “If you want to try [and] if you want to work hard, you can be successful,” Herrera commented.
In a time of stiff global education competition, such success is critical for social and economic growth. A 2014 study by Pearson ranks the United States fourteenth overall, trailing behind many Asian and European nations. Obama has taken notes; in his State of the Union address, the President announced, “We need to up our game” in regards to education.
The looming end to Obama’s presidency has not dissuaded him from an ambitious agenda until 2016, despite the recent shift in Congressional power to Republicans in the 2014 midterm elections. Because Congress is seeing red, such an education initiative might be more difficult than ever to strongarm through the Capitol, as Obama intends that federal funding cover 75% of the cost of community college. Expanding opportunity comes at a cost: over 60 billion dollars over the next ten years, to be exact. Conservative politicians grumble about the impossibility of paying for another social welfare program without raising taxes.
Payton students were quick to sound off on the economic implications of the initiative. Tiger Wang ‘16 commented, “I think it’s definitely worth investing 60 billion to have a more educated and skilled workforce.”
Herrera noted that “there are a lot of kids like me who can’t afford college.” He looks forward to having the chance to “show people that even though you can’t pay for college, you still have the knowledge to be successful.” Both Emmanuel’s and Obama’s visions “give kids the opportunity to show that,” Herrera commented.
Although many have begun to dissect the intricacies of such a colossal initiative, it is difficult to argue with the President’s bedrock belief in expanded opportunities for all Americans.
“Too many bright Americans are priced out of the education they need,” explained the President in his State of the Union address. “Let’s stay ahead of the curve.”
Many Payton students look forward to doing just that: stay ahead of the curve, without years of debt dragging them back.