President Obama’s “America’s College Promise” Proposal Unlikely to Succeed in Intended Way

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There’s some good news and bad news for students who face economic hurtles in their path to higher education.

President Barack Obama has an ambitious new proposal that could be a “ticket to the middle class,” offering millions of Americans more affordable access to community college. Though President Obama promised to push “America’s College Promise” through Congress in the news few weeks, experts feel that there’s little chance it will become law any time soon.

The idea is for the government to partner with states and fund the first two years of college for students “willing to work for it,” which would cost about $60 billion over the next 10 years.

However, with fiscally conservative Republicans controlling both houses of Congress, the proposal will likely get shot down. When asked if he’d support America’s College Promise, Republican senator Bob Corker said “Oh no, no, no, no, no.”

Andrew Kelly, the founding director of the Center on Higher Education Reform at the American Enterprise Institute, argues in a story on Forbes that the proposal doesn’t quite work fiscally. Offering a free public option will not change how much college costs; it will just change who pays for it.

He then argues that productivity is difficult to increase, because the product itself consists of interaction with highly educated labor in small groups. A two-year degree will take two years’ worth of study, time, and effort.

Investing in higher education for all, in my opinion, is a key component to a democratic society. We should make it a national budgetary priority in invest in preschool through college,” said Jacqui Byrne of Ivy Ed.

At the same time, wages will rise in the rest of the economy, forcing higher education institutes to pay employees more, although their output isn’t increasing. This results in higher costs.

“Simply shifting who pays the bill will do little to change the bill itself,” writes Kelly. “So while additional federal investments might cover the cost of a free public option today, those same sums won’t go as far next year or the year after unless colleges also make changes to their cost structure. Taxpayers would have to foot an increasingly large bill.”

On the bright side, it could still do some good, even if GOP resistance grounds it.

“It’s not necessarily all about bills and funding,” said Angus King, the Maine Senator who serves on the Senate Budget Committee. “Sometimes it’s about the bully pulpit and raising the profile of an issue,” King stated, going on to say that “setting the national agenda is an important part of what the presidency is.”

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