BY TODD EVANS
President Barack Obama made a proposal in January, for a nationwide program that would make tuition free for community college. This proposal may be a long way from becoming law, but still poses some interesting questions about how the County College of Morris, along with other community colleges, would be affected.
The program outlined by the White House would supposedly help about 9 million students a year. This is because the proposed eligibility requirements for the program are that students must attend community college at least half-time, maintain a 2.5 GPA, and make steady progress toward completing their program, according to the White House.
If this program does become a reality, it will be expected that there will be a large influx in community college enrollment. Preexisting free community college programs have already shown this.
“In the first year of the Tennessee program, 57,000 students representing almost 90 percent of the state’s high school graduating class applied for the program,” according to the White House fact sheet.
“If it brings that kind of growth for us, even if it’s a 2 percent or even a 5 percent increase, the college will be well positioned to handle the enrollment,” said Dr. Bette M. Simmons, CCM Vice President of Student Development and Enrollment Management.
Simmons said the biggest academic challenge for CCM would be making sure the college is offering a good amount of courses and making sure that enough sections are being offered.
“That may mean that we would have to also enlarge the number of our teaching faculty.” said Simmons.
The possibility of enrollment increases across the nation at community colleges is a major area of interest in the program because many community colleges, including CCM, have seen declining enrollment in recent years. Spring enrollment for CCM has decreased 2.1 percent compared to the spring semester’s 2014 enrollment.
The majority of the financial support for the program will come from the federal government which will cover three-quarters of the average cost of community college. The remaining funding will be a state’s responsibility to cover, according to a Jan. 8 White House press release.
The funding from the state would mean a great deal to many community colleges like CCM, whose state institution funding has been flat for six consecutive years, according to the February president’s report.
The White House says the program would not be mandatory for states; for a state to take part in the program it would have to opt into it, meaning eventually there could be a divide between states with free community college and those without.
Another effect of the program would be the relationships community colleges’ have with four year institutions.
“It may force the four year [colleges]’s to communicate more with us, not allow 20 percent rises in tuition,” said David Pallant, CCM assistant professor of communication. It could also lead to more cooperative agreements between community colleges and four year institutions, such as the one CCM has with Rutgers University-Newark.