President Obama’s proposal for free community college is an ambitious effort to address critical gaps in America’s post-secondary education and career training systems. However, it may fall flat before it even gets off the ground, and that’s not just because of its high price tag. It’s because community college success depends not on how many students enroll, but how many complete.
Under President Obama’s proposal, all Americans will have access to two years of free tuition at our nation’s public community colleges. The only requirements are to maintain at least C+ grades and to be making “steady progress” toward a degree. It calls for the federal government to cover three-quarters of the estimated $60 billion cost, with states covering the rest.
Certainly, increasing community college enrollment is a good start for boosting youth employment prospects. Young Americans without a post-secondary degree are not faring well in today’s workforce. My own research shows how they have been gradually pushed down and out of the labor market, in a phenomenon I call the “Great Squeeze.”
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