President Obama proposes free community college

By Ali Braboy

President Barack Obama proposed that two-year community colleges become “as free and universal in America as high school is today,” during his State of the Union address on Tuesday.

Obama’s America’s College Promise proposal states that students would be required to have at least a 2.5 GPA, attend community college at least half-time and make “steady progress toward completing their program.”

Preliminary plans for the program set the total cost at roughly $60 billion, to be paid over the course of 10 years.

According to the University Office for Planning and Budgeting, 724 individuals transferred to the University from Illinois community colleges in Fall 2014.

The LAS Transfer Advisory Group is a Registered Student Organization that helps students who have transferred from community colleges or other four-year universities to transition to the University.

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    Whitney Baldridge, senior in LAS and president of the group, attended Kaskaskia College, a two-year community college located in central Illinois, for one year before transferring to the University. She said transfer students can experience difficulties transitioning into the institution, including how to meet new people and discovering what is available at the college.

    “It’s kind of like a whole different world,” Baldridge said.

    She said community colleges make an effort to help students with financial situations; she herself received a scholarship, which allowed her free tuition to attend community college. Obama’s proposal, she added, may help those who don’t receive scholarships.

    “It’s really great because some people don’t have the accessibility of getting a scholarship,” Baldridge said. “But I can also see how it’s really great to earn your own.” Debra Bragg, director of the Office of Community College Research and Leadership and professor in the College of Education, said the proposal may help make college education more accessible.

    “It would allow a lot more students the opportunity to get at least two years of college education,” she said. “It would probably encourage students who might not have thought they could go to college or would be able to afford to go to college the opportunity to actually participate.”

    Bragg said it is difficult to say at this time how this legislation would affect the University or other four-year universities, but said it highlights the issue surrounding college affordability.

    “It’s possible that this debate that President Obama has started may help to raise consciousness about college affordability across the board,… that would be a good thing for all of higher education,” she said.

    Rick Field, junior in ACES, attended Wilbur Wright College, a community college in Chicago, before transferring to the University. He said Obama’s proposal is “a great, great thing” that will help many students financially.

    “What happens after three semesters if it turns out college is no good for him or her and they’ve decided they’re going to pursue something else?” he said. “Well, now all of a sudden they’ve racked up three semesters of debt.”

    He said he understands the difficulties people face when entering back into college because he did not immediately enter college after graduating high school. This can also cause financial difficulties for some.

    “The university program is very much built around the lifestyle of someone who has either no job or very little job commitment, a lot of time for extracurriculars, a lot of study time, and for the majority of people getting back into college, that doesn’t work,” Field said.

    Ali can be reached at [email protected].