College Tuition Elimination Plan Aims to Fill Skilled Jobs Mismatch

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It’s no secret that college costs have gone up. Way up. Bloomberg estimated that the cost of college had gone up 1,120 percent since 1978. While inflation over time is obviously normal, that’s a huge jump. Compare it to the fact that over the same time period, the price of food has only risen 244 percent. Going to college now requires that many students take out loans, and then struggle to pay those loans off for years to come. President Obama and other politicians have been saying that something needs to be done for a while, and he recently floated a plan to help ease college costs for some students: two years of free community college for students who are willing to work for it.

Obama gave a speech at Pellissippi State Community College in Tennessee about his new plan. At its core, it’s a simple enough idea. Students who maintain a GPA over 2.5, attend at least half time, and make steady progress toward completing their degree will be eligible for the tuition elimination. The schools are going to be held to high standards as well:

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.

The reasoning behind providing those first two years free is to train students for more high-skilled jobs. While our unemployment numbers are looking better than they have in years–under six percent as of December 2014–there are still plenty of Americans who are unemployed and underemployed. Despite this nearly five million jobs remain unfilled in areas that require specialized training, such as healthcare work or technology. This plan will attempt to fill that gap by providing workers with skills that can be used in those jobs. As jobs that require a college degree increase–by 2020 it’s estimated that 33 percent of all job openings will require post-high school education–it makes sense to make it as easy as possible for people to get those degrees.

It’s estimated that this will cost about $3,800 per student, and that nine million students will take advantage of the program. That all adds up to a pretty hefty price tag, roughly $60 billion over ten years, which begs the question: how is the Federal government going to pay for this all? The details don’t appear to be fully formed yet, but advocates argue that it’s an investment in the economy. Until our work force is at its most productive, we’re not going to be able to get much done.

Despite the fact that this plan is more bipartisan than most undertaken by the government these days–Republican Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker attended the speech in Tennessee–there are plenty of lawmakers who disagree with the plan. Detractors point to the high price tag as an unnecessary expense. There are also concerns that community colleges aren’t necessarily that successful–only 30 percent of students entering community college graduate within three years.

While there are both positives and negatives to the plan, it’s an early step of what needs to be a much larger solution to the huge problem of college costs and student debt as a whole.


Anneliese Mahoney
Anneliese Mahoney is Managing Editor at Law Street and a Connecticut transplant to Washington D.C. She has a Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs from the George Washington University, and a passion for law, politics, and social issues. Contact Anneliese at



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