Free Community College
January 8, 2015 3:59 PM   Subscribe

President Obama posted a Facebook video today, and will formally announce tomorrow in Tennessee a plan to provide any American student with good grades two years of community college, for free. Tennessee is the president's last stop on his pre-State of the Union tour.

A similar state program called Tennessee Promise, led by Gov. Bill Haslam that gives Tennessee's high school seniors free tuition at the state's two-year community colleges and colleges of applied technology, began this past fall.
posted by roomthreeseventeen (148 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
I wonder if this will reduce the need for student loans, and maybe exert some downward pressure on tuition and "fees".
posted by Elementary Penguin at 4:03 PM on January 8, 2015 [8 favorites]


Ah, see? Now that he's fixed the big huge messes mostly he can get around to awesome shit like this. Only took 6 years.
posted by nevercalm at 4:05 PM on January 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


What's the catch?
posted by indubitable at 4:05 PM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think the catch is that he's formally announcing a plan, but the plan has not yet been implemented.
posted by corb at 4:09 PM on January 8, 2015 [9 favorites]


The catch is that it will probably never happen. It would be nice though.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 4:09 PM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


What's the catch?

You have to spend one night in a haunted house.
posted by compartment at 4:09 PM on January 8, 2015 [170 favorites]


At least in my area, the "community college" options are an academic joke compared to the similar classes at 4-year colleges. I know that's not true everywhere, but making this a national plan without a national system of decent community colleges... doesn't seem like the best possible use of money. And if you're not really academically on-par with 4-year schools, what this turns into is another thing that gives poor people second-class systems and yet lets the rich pat themselves on the back about how supportive they're being.
posted by Sequence at 4:10 PM on January 8, 2015 [16 favorites]


The catch is "making sure that Congress gets behind these efforts..."
posted by ChuraChura at 4:10 PM on January 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


Free gratis?
posted by clavdivs at 4:11 PM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


I dunno the GOP has managed to convince people that getting cheaper healthcare is in fact, a hrifying act of war on noble white Americans. Free schooling? There is nobody America hates more than teachers and young people.
posted by The Whelk at 4:13 PM on January 8, 2015 [41 favorites]


Free community college? What a snob.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:15 PM on January 8, 2015 [8 favorites]


Only two years? I'm holding out for six seasons and a movie.
posted by Strange Interlude at 4:20 PM on January 8, 2015 [40 favorites]


Basically conceding the failure of K-12 to generate a meaningful degree.

(The Whelk, Gov. Haslam's a member of the GOP and the Tennessee statehouse is overwhelmingly Republican.)
posted by IndigoJones at 4:22 PM on January 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


Watching him co-opt the crown jewel of Haslam's 2020 or 2024 presidential run is so, so beautiful
posted by Metafilter Username at 4:23 PM on January 8, 2015 [7 favorites]


Basically conceding the failure of K-12 to generate a meaningful degree.

Degree, or education?
posted by mikelieman at 4:24 PM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Fucking troll the GOP. And don't let up. While they're trying to explain why we shouldn't support young people, announce a clean drinking water plan. While they're scrambling into formation to oppose that, propose an initiative to sponsor gender transitions. Declare an all-out war to save Florida's native fauna from environmental degradation. Post a bounty for corporate tax cheats. Smoke weed on live television and tote its healthful properties. Drag the fuckers all around the court. Let them play defense for a change.
posted by Iridic at 4:25 PM on January 8, 2015 [227 favorites]


And if you're not really academically on-par with 4-year schools, what this turns into is another thing that gives poor people second-class systems and yet lets the rich pat themselves on the back about how supportive they're being.

How do you make community colleges academically on-par with 4-year schools? 4-year schools aren't even academically on par with each other.
posted by the jam at 4:26 PM on January 8, 2015 [29 favorites]


Sequence,

As you said, your experience is far from universal. Where I was in Virginia, Tidewater CC actually had a pretty good arts program (my girlfriend is finishing her glass blowing degree—VERY few places anywhere have glass blowing degrees). Much of the trouble with community colleges is the same trouble as everywhere: over reliance on adjunct labor. Perhaps if there are strings attached to getting your program in the running (50% of all teaching positions must be full-time), we'll see community colleges really regain traction as the place that's less about scholarship and more about teaching.

Another factor that makes community colleges great is that they often have the vocational certification programs that help get students work. Although still offering that academic stepping stone, the attraction for someone trying to learn AC repair is great.

In the end, I have no idea why community college isn't already free as it serves such an important public good. Also, unlike K-12, community college isn't a benefit that one can miss by being too old. This is all coming up Milhouse to me.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 4:27 PM on January 8, 2015 [29 favorites]


This is of course a good thing. It has to be done well, though. Better is to make 4-year college affordable. (Or, do both!). In CA, the legislature has mandated a smooth transition from cc to UC and CSU. This of course is a good thing prima facie. But it also has had the effect of turning many CSUs into near "senior colleges." Many of the students who went to a jc first would have been better served with an affordable 4-year option.
posted by persona au gratin at 4:28 PM on January 8, 2015


In the end, I have no idea why community college isn't already free as it serves such an important public good

Community college was free in the past in some places - notably, NYC - but the problem is it can't really work without applying a grade or test requirement, which is how it was done and how Obama is actually proposing it be done. And because the problem is K-12 schools, not necessarily community colleges being too expensive, that's not going to fix much. The people who can get good grades out of shitty schools are probably fine already.
posted by corb at 4:29 PM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Anything that will help to create fewer slaves to the College/Loan Shark Industrial Complex is A-OK in my book.
posted by Atom Eyes at 4:30 PM on January 8, 2015 [17 favorites]


I'm not saying it's a bad idea, but the catch is that most students who go to community college never get any kind of degree. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to graduate from college if they go to the most selective college that they can get into. My concern is that this is going to provide an incentive for students to start at community college, rather than 4-year college, and that's not the best option for all students. It's the best option for some students, but not for everyone.

It might be, though, that a lot of students don't graduate from community college for financial reasons, and if they have their tuition paid for two years, they'll be more likely to leave with an associate's degree. And that would be good.

Having said that, there are a ton of really great careers that you can train for at community college, and I wish more students were educated about those options, rather than being pressured to get a 4-year degree.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:30 PM on January 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


What's the catch?

You have to spend one night in a haunted house.


A haunted house of representatives.
posted by Going To Maine at 4:35 PM on January 8, 2015 [97 favorites]


I mean, it looks like it's just increasing the accreditation treadmill. There are so many possible people who would be fine in any job so you need the accreditation to narrow it down just to make it workable. I mean its like formally admitting a basic college degree is now a high school degree.

Its a band aid, at best, it seems.
posted by The Whelk at 4:35 PM on January 8, 2015 [7 favorites]


My son did the first half of his BA at our local community college and had a very positive experience and saved a hell of a lot of money. They're great for kids who aren't really sure if they're ready for a university yet.
posted by octothorpe at 4:36 PM on January 8, 2015 [23 favorites]


As a parent of a 19goingon20 year old, this is fantastic news.

I love the Obama we've seen since the last election. Where has been ?
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 4:37 PM on January 8, 2015 [12 favorites]


Mr. Corpse started at a community college then transferred to a four-year state college, and now he has a job he loves and that pays well enough to support a family of Corpses.

I hope we can arrange it so everyone can do that, if they want to; it's exactly what community colleges should be here for.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:41 PM on January 8, 2015 [29 favorites]


I teach at a four-year college and we regularly get transfers from the local community college. They aren't as strong as the students who come straight from high school but they're stronger than they'd've been without the community college. It's especially great for your "non-traditional" (ie adult) students. When I was in grad school I taught summer classes at the community college near an Air Force Base and I had a lot of fun teaching the cadets trying to get college credit for advancement. Community college is supposed to be a step up to a four-year college, and I think it works well when your state college system is well-organized.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 4:41 PM on January 8, 2015 [21 favorites]


A lot of community college programs provide training for specific careers, Whelk, and you can't do those careers without the training. You can get a two-year community college degree and be a dental hygienist, for instance, which is a pretty great job. (Average salary is $70,000 a year, and demand is expected to grow in the next couple of decades.) If you go to two-year college for technical training, you aren't necessarily contributing to the accreditation treadmill.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:42 PM on January 8, 2015 [21 favorites]


Community Colleges are way better for students than any of the horrible for-profit tech schools that give poor kids a shitty education and charge them thousands for it.
posted by octothorpe at 4:47 PM on January 8, 2015 [60 favorites]


At least in my area, the "community college" options are an academic joke compared to the similar classes at 4-year colleges. I know that's not true everywhere, but making this a national plan without a national system of decent community colleges.

My town's newspaper trolled our local university by pointing out that while they have been (futilely) trying to become a top ten school, our CC (my workplace) has been one for three years.
posted by oddman at 4:48 PM on January 8, 2015 [16 favorites]


I don't know: among other things, community colleges can be great for helping kids catch up on what they should have learned in high school, but didn't, such as math and English. Some community colleges are terrific and excellent alternatives to four years at a four-year school. I know not all CC's are great but then, neither are some four-year schools. CC's might be a place to sort out real career plans while not going into hock to do so.
posted by etaoin at 4:52 PM on January 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


Nothing I said was to indicate that all community colleges are bad. Some community colleges are great. Some universities are also great compared to other universities. But the thing is that depending on where you are, things do vary--but the chances that your local community college is worthless are considerably higher than the chances of the same being true of your nearest 4-year state university. The well-off won't have to worry about this and never have. What we're talking about is purely a program to improve the education of the poor. If we send the poor to schools for two years that do not provide any meaningful education beyond what they should have gotten in high school, all we've done is waste two more years of their lives while their better-off peers were off doing something meaningful.

If this came with the funding and resources necessary to make sure that every area of the US with a significant population had at least one genuinely good community college, it'd be fantastic. But it's a pity thing. It sounds like a big thing but these are already very cheap schools. Why aren't we reaching for two years of actual college tuition? Yes, state schools are usually not as good as Harvard in that area, but that's not the sort of trouble I see with community colleges. Someone I know had a degree in another area and intended to get into accounting using a local state community college to get the credits they needed for the CPA exam--we compared notes and they were covering about a third of the material in a typical class that my unremarkable state university had covered. Giving that away for free instead of cheap, I mean, yay free stuff, but it's not going to make that person a competent accountant, it's just going to make them a slightly less indebted bookkeeper.
posted by Sequence at 4:57 PM on January 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


Isn't this just going to be Obamacare over again? The blue states will be willing to pick up the 25% but the red states won't, in the same way the red states refused to expand Medicaid?
posted by wittgenstein at 5:03 PM on January 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm curious to see what DeanDad has to say about all this. I would've sworn he'd written something about the idea, maybe about Tennessee Promise, but I can't find it. I seem to remember that the devil would very much be in the details, especially in who gets the funding and how. (Most of the increases in tuition & fees in public institutions, especially CCs, comes from the defunding happening in state legislatures.)
posted by epersonae at 5:14 PM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Considering what Obama's been doing the last few months, we should have elected a Republican Congress a while ago. Now for drone strikes to take down the Tortilla Curtain.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 5:17 PM on January 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


Isn't this just going to be Obamacare over again? The blue states will be willing to pick up the 25% but the red states won't, in the same way the red states refused to expand Medicaid?

It'll be a nothingburger like immigration all over again because the votes in Congress aren't there (only moreso now following the election), but it's still good for the President to put it out there and maybe help get some people engaged in the process and think about ways we might make things better instead of worse all the time and maybe even turn out to vote and stay engaged afterward.

Like others, I would have rathered we had this Obama a couple three years ago, but now that he's well and truly lame-ducked, he's playing with house money and he can talk about this stuff and not have to deal with the money constituency telling him he can't.

Please, Mr President, troll on.
posted by notyou at 5:18 PM on January 8, 2015 [9 favorites]


Sequence: But the thing is that depending on where you are, things do vary--but the chances that your local community college is worthless are considerably higher than the chances of the same being true of your nearest 4-year state university.

That's a hell of an assumption. Community colleges have the potential to be better places to take the first two years at, in my experience, because they tend to have smaller class sizes and the instructor is focused on teaching instead of research. They also have the benefit of not having varsity sports or a sports culture (you can still get club sports, which are a much more reasonable thing for the average person to participate in). Also, the ones I've seen don't have a greek system.
posted by Mitrovarr at 5:18 PM on January 8, 2015 [22 favorites]


Where the hell has this guy been for six years?
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 5:20 PM on January 8, 2015 [9 favorites]


The cynic in me wonders, now that the government will be picking up the tab for the majority (or at least a large share) of incoming students, what incentive the community colleges will have to keep costs down. Will this simply lead to an explosion in community college tuition and possibly price out students who don't make the grades to be eligible for the subsidies?

I guess I'll wait for details to find out, but these kind of plans, even when started with the best of intentions, have had a history of producing perverse incentives that lead to bad outcomes. I could easily see community college tuition going up and state funding for community colleges going down once the feds become involved.
posted by Nerd of the North at 5:20 PM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Obama's not an idiot. He knows the difference between a 2-year community college AA degree and a 4-year university degree. But he also knows there's no way in heck he's going to get free 4-year degrees from universities and he just might be able to take the FIRST STEP to free education by enabling young people to get a vo-tech career at no charge or take two years of academics which, if they do their very best, just might earn them a scholarship into university to continue toward their 4-year degree.

Politically the backlash will be tremendous - he knows that, too. But he's put it on the table and if the Republicans block it, which of course they will, it goes back to them. At least he's trying to make it possible for young people to get started on a path to a career without having to start off under massive debt. There are good careers available through community college - in the culinary field, the medical field, dental, computer tech field and more.

My granddaughter took the last two years of high school at a community college in a program that enabled her to get her AA degree at the same time she graduated high school. I think that's a common program and probably helped the President get the setup rolling for his plan. I give him 100 points for getting the ball rolling to the best of his ability.
posted by aryma at 5:24 PM on January 8, 2015 [20 favorites]


This is very interesting news. I'm working in educational technology, and currently on something for community colleges.

Community colleges are, on the whole, spectacular failures. I mean all of higher ed is kind of in a panic about their future, but the statistics on community colleges is pretty shocking. 80% of students say that their goal is to transfer, 20% ultimately do. The 3 year graduation rate (for a 2 year degree) is about 20%. The majority of students never get their associate's degree, much less transfer to a 4 year.

There are several factors causing this. What you have are people graduating from high school without functional english and math skills, so they're spending the first year or two just getting caught up to where they're already supposed to be, before they can even start on their degree. The average community college student is also older, many have children, etc., and there's an economic pressure--a lot of people can't afford to spend 4 years doing what they thought was going to be a 2 year effort. And finally, the community college experience is totally fucked for the student, from a planning perspective. They get something like 7 minutes of academic advisement over their entire student careers. They're dropped into a system they have no idea how to navigate, and they have no one to turn to for help. They're often the first people in their families to go to school, there's no campus so there's not really a chance for peer support. Just getting signed up for classes is a challenge, never mind actually getting the right ones to support your degree. Or trying to figure out what degree you should be getting... It's frustrating because we keep telling people the key to economic success is an education, but in practice this isn't happening.

On the other hand, there are (far fewer) people who go in, get their technical training, get their certification and switch to a new career that actually makes them good money. And that's urban schools; there are people in rural parts of the country where getting an associate's degree is exactly all you need after HS to get working on the farm. Community colleges look like the communities they're in, so there's definitely variation.

So my opinion is that if we can take the economic pressure off the students, outcomes will improve. I don't know by how much, but they will certainly improve. Why? Because there is a huge difference in the rate of success for students who are doing full-time vs. part time (FT = 2x better chance of getting a degree). And people go to school part time because the rest of the time they're working to pay for school, and the rest of their lives...
posted by danny the boy at 5:28 PM on January 8, 2015 [17 favorites]


The cynic in me wonders, now that the government will be picking up the tab for the majority (or at least a large share) of incoming students, what incentive the community colleges will have to keep costs down.
I dunno, Medicare does a pretty stellar job of keeping down the costs for the shit it pays for.
posted by edheil at 5:29 PM on January 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


This is great news even to make it part of the conversation. Whatever your thoughts on CCs, creating less student debt is vital for our economy long term imo. As is training disadvantaged impoverished people to do stuff. This would help a lot of people, especially in places like the south where there are no jobs (not to mention blowing up community colleges hiring!)
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:43 PM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


This might undercut the funding of universities a bit. They don't like to talk about it, but low-level classes (which have big class sizes, require less experienced instructors, and usually have cheaper labs) finance the higher-level classes. If community colleges are free, they'll be way more popular than they are now, and universities will have a lot fewer 1-2 year students while still having as many (or more!) 3-4 year students. I don't see how they'd be able to cope without charging more.
posted by Mitrovarr at 5:46 PM on January 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


If Congress blocks it, he's at the very least giving the 18-20 yro voters a reason to vote Dem in 2016.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 5:47 PM on January 8, 2015 [8 favorites]


When my daughter was getting her bachelor's, for reasons I don't remember she had to take a single class at the community college. We were both appalled at how bad it was. The course seemed like it was aimed at 7th graders who weren't very bright. This was in Houston, the 4th largest city in the US. So I don't know that this is going to be a universally great thing. But I still applaud the idea.
posted by MexicanYenta at 5:51 PM on January 8, 2015


I went to two year college and got an AA degree that guaranteed me acceptance to a state public university (FSU). It made planning for the future really easy at the time, knowing that my state offerred a guaranteed path to university access. And so much cheaper than all the alternatives. I had actually won a writing scholarship to University of Tampa (a private university), but even with that and the other financial aid I qualified for, the bill was still so much we had to back out at the last minute after I was already enrolled in classes when it became clear my grandparents' financial situation was too poor to pay the tuition and other expenses. This could really help a lot of people get access to a good public university education eventually, if other states have similar policies about AA's guaranteeing admission to a state public university, and for others, the vocational offerings could really pay off. Good idea, so I'm sure it probably won't happen.
posted by saulgoodman at 5:55 PM on January 8, 2015 [6 favorites]


Community colleges, in general, have no admission requirements. There is absolutely no minimum knowledge you need to enroll. Instructors can't very well teach the class at a level that will only be useful to a handful of students. It's going to be at a basic level because that's how community college is currently designed.
posted by the jam at 5:55 PM on January 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


This is great. In fact, why don't we just take those two years of publicly funded community college education, make them universal, and call them Grade 13 and Grade 14?

Seriously, why do we stop at Grade 12 when everyone knows that a high school education is insufficient for almost all occupations? Because twelve years is some magic number?
posted by RonButNotStupid at 5:58 PM on January 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


Community colleges are essentially trade schools. They have almost nothing to do with "higher education". People attend them in hopes of acquiring the skills and/or certification required to feed themselves and their family. Just look at any CC curriculum. It is two years of specialization after twelve years of general study. Making this process free and accessible can only be a boon to the economy as a whole...
posted by jim in austin at 6:00 PM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


That's not true, jim in austin. The only affordable path I found to a university education was community college.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:03 PM on January 8, 2015 [20 favorites]


There's a guy who used to work for me who's at a CC now. His goals are to transfer to a four-year college in a year or so, then complete the masters degree that's a standard credential in our field. I've done my small part to help get people into Ivy League schools, service academies and top-10 law schools, but talking this guy out of the University of Phoenix and into the CC (he can't really afford a four-year place yet) is probably some of the best mentoring I've ever done.
posted by box at 6:10 PM on January 8, 2015 [15 favorites]


My experience matches saulgoodman's. It's not universal, but a significant number of CC students actually do move on to four year schools (and beyond).
posted by notyou at 6:11 PM on January 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


Community colleges, in general, have no admission requirements.

I found this not to be true, as unlike University of Phoenix, they don't have open enrollment. For example, at the local community college, you have to take placement tests in English and Math that check if you can enter the basic 101 courses. If you don't pass all the modules, you usually have to take remedial courses that aren't worth college credits and help catch you up to what you were supposed to know from high school. Using programs like that can guarantee that the 101 courses can have minimum standards but still allow a path for those whose high school education wasn't that great.

Of course this was true before this program. Colleges have always been gated by finances and not just "admission requirements".
posted by Lord Chancellor at 6:11 PM on January 8, 2015 [8 favorites]


Community colleges, in general, have no admission requirements. There is absolutely no minimum knowledge you need to enroll.
That's true of the colleges but not necessarily of the individual classes. Students often have to take placement tests and then do remedial coursework if they don't test into the college-level class.
Community colleges are essentially trade schools. They have almost nothing to do with "higher education". People attend them in hopes of acquiring the skills and/or certification required to feed themselves and their family. Just look at any CC curriculum. It is two years of specialization after twelve years of general study. Making this process free and accessible can only be a boon to the economy as a whole...
That's not my experience. Some students go to community college for trade-school-like training. Some go to do their first two years of a four-year degree, and then they transfer to a four-year college. A lot of students at four-year colleges take a couple of community college classes, often during a summer. I've got a master's degree, and I'm taking a continuing ed class at a community college next semester. Community colleges serve a lot of different audiences.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:13 PM on January 8, 2015 [10 favorites]


Also remember that there a wider sampling of society of people who attend community colleges. Of course, you have hopeful academic students who are trying to get it on the cheap, out of prudence or necessity. In addition, you have those trying to learn a trade, those who want to study a specific discipline, those wanting just an AA or AS, those trying to fill in a few classes to help them with a job, and those that just want to learn something new after many years. The University doesn't always cast a wide net (and usually insists that you adapt to what it considers its standards before it picks you up), so it's nice to have a post-secondary education that people who don't always want to get a BA/BS can take advantage of.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 6:15 PM on January 8, 2015 [7 favorites]


If community college is free, and all of your credits transfer to a four year college, then 50% of your four year degree is now free. That's math.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:15 PM on January 8, 2015 [32 favorites]


That's not true, jim in austin. The only affordable path I found to a university education was community college. - posted by saulgoodman

You mistake my intent. I wasted four years and lots of money on a worthless degree. If I were emerging from high school today I would head to ACC for an associates degree in accounting and never look back...
posted by jim in austin at 6:19 PM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


All this discussion makes me feel even worse about the fact that I never completed my community college degree, since it means I'm just negatively affecting the completion stats. I wish I could ask for an asterisk by my name, to stand for "never completed program due to awesome job offer." Some of the best students in my program ended up the same way; when we had our portfolios, we started looking at jobs, and once we had jobs, crossing those last couple classes off our to-do list didn't seem quite as important anymore.

Community college did exactly what I needed it to do; it was flexible enough that I could work a full time job while I was attending classes, it was affordable enough that I could attend without feeling like I was making a terrible financial mistake, and the instructors focused on teaching professionalism and design standards, enabling me to work on all the awesome stuff that I had wanted to do but lacked the tools for.
posted by redsparkler at 6:26 PM on January 8, 2015 [12 favorites]


what incentive the community colleges will have to keep costs down.

Or, on the other hand, what incentives will 4-year schools have to make it harder to transfer credits from community colleges.
posted by jpe at 6:28 PM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


80% of students say that their goal is to transfer, 20% ultimately do. The 3 year graduation rate (for a 2 year degree) is about 20%. The majority of students never get their associate's degree, much less transfer to a 4 year.

From what I've seen, most people spend at least 4 years at multiple community colleges before they transfer. There's so many budget cuts that it takes people in CC's forever to get enough classes, they hop from campus to campus, etc.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:29 PM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Seriously, why do we stop at Grade 12 when everyone knows that a high school education is insufficient for almost all occupations? Because twelve years is some magic number?

The schools are probably out of money.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:30 PM on January 8, 2015


My experience matches saulgoodman's. It's not universal, but a significant number of CC students actually do move on to four year schools (and beyond).

I used to work at HVCC, but even before that experience, I've known that the the CC is like any other resource. You get out of it what you put into it. And there is a well-defined migration path from CC -> State University in New York, so, yeah. This could cut the price of higher-ed in half. Which isn't a bad thing.
posted by mikelieman at 6:39 PM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


RonButNotStupid: Seriously, why do we stop at Grade 12 when everyone knows that a high school education is insufficient for almost all occupations? Because twelve years is some magic number?

Actually, a high school education is fine for a lot of occupations. It's just that the limited job market for educated people forces many of them to take those jobs instead of whatever they were educated for, so they've raised the competitive standards to the point at which you can't actually get a job without a degree.
posted by Mitrovarr at 6:46 PM on January 8, 2015 [15 favorites]


I wish I could ask for an asterisk by my name, to stand for "never completed program due to awesome job offer."

Yes, this. Oddly, I am probably on the books that way as well, because I took some CC classes to learn some new skills, then got a job with those skills and didn't continue with the program. It's not a totally uncommon outcome, I think, and probably slightly skews the numbers.

I see two main tracks at my local CC. There's the transfer students getting their intro classes out of the way before transferring to Big State U, and then there are all the vocational programs. Those vary from one semester to a couple of years, and are targeted at in-demand skills like autobody and CNA certification. Each program has an advisory committee of employers in that field and every program is adjusted every couple of years to meet what the employers are saying they need in new hires, and if a program is failing, with too few students or unhappy employers, it gets ruthlessly reworked or axed. I'm on one of those advisory committees and the CC is incredibly serious about finding ways to meet the needs that the employers articulate; in exchange, they provide a reliable pipeline of skilled and motivated new hires. The requirement is that there has to be proven demand for graduates and that the jobs have to pay a living wage.

And in the last few years I am seeing more "post-graduate" students -- people who graduated a year or three ago with a BA/BS and have realized that they need some practical skills on top of the four year degree to get the job they want. I don't know if that is a national trend or just local, but part of having a high-quality open-enrollment school is that all kinds of non-traditional people are going to find creative ways to use it, which is exactly what should be happening.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:48 PM on January 8, 2015 [6 favorites]


I was a first generation college student on both sides. College was a Big Fucking Deal, and I wanted to go so badly. But my family was in the impossible position that they earned enough I couldn't get non-loan financial aid, but not enough to pay for college. I had some pretty good scholarship offers, but not the full ride I needed.

So I went to community college and worked full time to save money for my four year. Even working full time wasn't enough - I ended up with a large gap between my "sophomore" and "junior" year wherein I worked a full time job (for living) and a part time job (for college savings) before I left for my 4 year.

I am so fucking grateful that I had a cheap college option, because I got a taste of what I was going after. If I had waited and just worked for a few years I wouldn't have ended up going. I got half of my credits for 1/4th the price, only 1 class didn't transfer, and when I ended up at a university I was just as prepared as the rest of my classmates, because I went in with the attitude that what I would get out of my classes would be the work I put into them. Sure, I had some terrible classes, but I didn't have a physics class with 200 students, either.

I lived in a community where college wasn't really pushed, especially for women. I was a little bit strange for wanting to go so bad. Only 10 kids out of my high school class of 120 went on to any kind of college. Only 3 of us went all the way through. It doesn't matter to me that I went to a community college for the first two years of my experience - I'm so goddamn grateful I got to college at all. There may be some terrible community colleges out there, but they provide chances for those of us who really want it.

I cleaned toilets for 4 years so that I could go to college. I would have wept to have gotten to go to college for free. So this really means something for a lot of people.
posted by barchan at 6:51 PM on January 8, 2015 [70 favorites]


ArbitraryAndCapricious: "I'm not saying it's a bad idea, but the catch is that most students who go to community college never get any kind of degree."

Hell, even if not one more student gets improved by the education, perhaps this will cut the legs out from under the for-profit colleges, whose students undertake huge loans to...not get a degree.

(Loans that can't be dissolved via bankruptcy--so really, the lending entities that give these loans out should morally charge no interest due to there being no risk whatsoever. Loans that are given out to people that can't afford them. These entities - both the for-profit colleges and the lending units - are worse than payday loan places, since they pretend to offer hope...while payday loan places don't even bother with that.)
posted by notsnot at 6:55 PM on January 8, 2015 [7 favorites]


I also have to say that I wonder if the people who sneer at the academic standards of community colleges spent the first year or two of their undergraduate education in various big lecture halls or in sections taught by graduate teaching assistants who were still learning how to teach (if they ever did). A lot of my peers didn't seem to mind as it gave them a chance to party hearty for a couple of years before they had to start taking their classes seriously; I, on the other hand, was watching my meager inheritance dwindling (and by "meager" I mean that it was about enough to see me through 2 1/2 years of a state university education in the eighties) in the process of covering core requirements that didn't seem much more demanding than high school. I gladly would have taken two years of free tuition at a community college, especially if I got to include some classes in practical skills that I could have used to earn a halfway-decent living during the five years between my undergraduate graduation and starting grad school.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:55 PM on January 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


I seem to be the last person in the country to remember that Bill Clinton - our previous Democratic president - proposed this very thing in 1997. (But instead, we allowed Republicans to have access to power, and so America lost another full generation of progress....)

The State of the Union Address, 1997:
Eighth, we must make the 13th and 14th years of education – at least two years of college – just as universal in America by the 21st century as a high school education is today, and we must open the doors of college to all Americans.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 7:02 PM on January 8, 2015 [11 favorites]


Community colleges are open admission, but for anything transferable, students (until recently) need to place into college-level math and english courses. If they don't pass these classes, they can't take most of the other classes they need to transfer. Currently, our developmental education budget has been slashed and all but eliminated, with the idea that it's cheaper for the state to just let students try to take these classes and fail, but anecdotally, no one I know has lowered their standard to get these students through.

Completion rates are not great, but one essential thing to consider when you look at those numbers is that they consider anyone who takes a course to be a potentially graduating student. High school student taking a class before college? Local student taking a class at the cc because the university sections are all full? Lifelong learner wanting to try a fiction or pottery class? All failures as far as completion rates are concerned.

Attrition also suffers because, at least in my experience, students tend to be working over 40 hours a week, often at multiple jobs. Many of them have families. Almost none of them have health insurance. I lose too many of them each semester, and I tell myself that if I can't just pass them - because I do not dumb down my classes - at least they didn't go into much debt in order to see that college wasn't going to be an option for them right now. And those that do succeed have more dedication and focus than my lazy, pajama-wearing, dorm-living, no-morning-classes ass did as a university undergraduate.

As for the level of community college instruction - do you know how hard it is to get a higher ed teaching position in many disciplines? Universities are overproducing PhDs and then cutting full-time faculty in favor of adjunct labor. We have to go somewhere, and many of us want to keep teaching. I work with some amazing, amazing people, and I'd like to think that I'm pretty decent myself. I know I'm streets ahead where I was as a graduate student, teaching the same subject to university students.

I do wonder where the money will come from. I've been teaching for 11 years now, and we keep seeing our share of the state budget shrink, even as our enrollment grows. There also seems this detrimental idea that community college is a panacea to the job-market woes. Typically, community colleges are split between vocational and transfer classes, with the former receiving certificates and the latter receiving associate degrees. I never have auto repair or culinary students in my classes; we really have no interaction with the vocational departments.

People conflate the two, with community college = air conditioner repair = cheap college = educated, employed populace! But many of our students want careers that require a bachelor's degree or beyond, and we're being promoted as a viable, or even automatic, path to that goal. We desperately need money and resources - which we're not going to get through tuition - and even then, we can only guarantee that our students will have comparatively less debt that their university-going peers. We can't make a college degree as lucrative as it was 25 years ago.

I'll just swallow my anger the accusations of teaching "college" classes with safety scissors, because some people never get tired of bashing community colleges. But shit, it's unpleasant when I'm trying to gear up for another exhausting semester. I love teaching, I'm good at what I do, and my students are working themselves too hard for this sort of condescending crap.
posted by bibliowench at 7:07 PM on January 8, 2015 [68 favorites]


I also wonder if there's some very subtle targets in this announcement: the for-profit college and loan companies. It will be interesting to hear more of the rhetoric and word choice when Obama announces this plan formally.
posted by barchan at 7:16 PM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


I do wonder where the money will come from.

Taxes and new debt, of course, like everything else. 75% Fed, 25% states according to this. They posit 9 million students at $3,800 a year, so figure at least 34 billion. For perspective, that's about one percent of the federal budget. Theoretically the expense will, over time, generate more than it takes in.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:27 PM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


I went to community college before transferring to a four-year university. I liked the community college a lot better. The class sizes were smaller, so I could raise my hand and ask a question. Classes could discuss things as a group. My classmates were more dedicated - they were there to learn, not to party, and that atmosphere helped motivate me. My community college professors seemed to care more about their students, whereas at university I felt like an afterthought to research and Ph.D. students.

So keep up the good work, bibliowench, I'm sure your students appreciate you.
posted by foobaz at 7:38 PM on January 8, 2015 [18 favorites]


Came here to say pretty much what bibliowench said, so I'll just add one other thing about the terminology. Historically, technical colleges taught vocational subjects like air conditioning, diesel mechanics, etc., and junior colleges taight the first 2 years of a 4 year degree. Community colleges combine both the technical college and the junior college. That's what the institution where I teach is--we have separate technical and academic programs, and we have separate technical and academic deans. (We also have a third area--workforce development to provide training for business and industry, which is separate from either academic or technical.)
posted by fogovonslack at 7:40 PM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


When I saw this, I thought it was a great, great idea. After my initial feeling subsided a bit, and I started to think, I can't see it ever working. Proposing this to a congress whose first day was spent passing bills chipping away at Roe v Wade? There isn't a chance in hell this goes through. In the meantime, people who still have some small inkling of hope are going to end up disappointed in the result. This is all about setting the republicans up to look bad for 2016. If it wasn't, then why the hell wasn't this proposed earlier, when it might have at least stood a chance in the senate?

I'd love a system that encouraged a revamp, that enabled people to get further education. At the same time, I'd also love to see a solid emphasis placed on actual skill training, on making trade schools a viable thing, available widely. This, though, is trolling. It's just the opening shot in the campaign for 2016.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:41 PM on January 8, 2015


Seriously, why do we stop at Grade 12 when everyone knows that a high school education is insufficient for almost all occupations? Because twelve years is some magic number?

Jane Addams said it best:
I had confidence that although life itself might contain many difficulties, the period of mere passive receptivity had come to an end, and I had at last finished with the ever-lasting "preparation for life," however ill-prepared I might be.

It was not until years afterward that I came upon Tolstoy's phrase "the snare of preparation," which he insists we spread before the feet of young people, hopelessly entangling them in a curious inactivity at the very period of life when they are longing to construct the world anew and to conform it to their own ideals.
A lot of people aren't cut out for college. And that's okay. The problem is assuming that if you don't like writing papers and doing math (which is the majority of the remedial work that trips up folks not suited to college who go anyway) there's something wrong with you and you should be a second-class citizen.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:42 PM on January 8, 2015 [7 favorites]


For a good chunk of his academic career, my father has helped to run something called the "Transitional Year Program" at our local university.

This is something that allows people with irregular educational backgrounds (people who dropped out of high school for financial reasons, people recovering from substance abuse, people who had to leave their home countries at a young age as the result of conflict or persecution, LGBTQ people whose schooling was disrupted as a result of conflict with their families, etc.). It allows them to upgrade some of their academic skills while also taking university credit courses before entering a full degree program.

If this initiative does anything close to what the program my father works for is able to accomplish, it will be a positive benefit for society in the U.S. as a whole.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 8:00 PM on January 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


Much of the trouble with community colleges is the same trouble as everywhere: over reliance on adjunct labor.

Imagine the great irony of teaching as an adjunct at CC, where the goal for the students is to hopefully get college degree and a good job, and yet there you are, with several college degrees and getting paid close to minimum wage to teach, with no benefits and no job security.

My son did the first half of his BA at our local community college and had a very positive experience and saved a hell of a lot of money. They're great for kids who aren't really sure if they're ready for a university yet.

Would you like to know why it was so cheap? Answer: Because people like me were getting squeezed. But that's an important lesson about the country we live in.
posted by ennui.bz at 8:05 PM on January 8, 2015 [9 favorites]


for the record

Its a band aid, at best, it seems.


is about putting a band aid on the idea of never-ending debt for no pay and having to face a post industrial future where working isn't tied to eating and a new way of living is possible.
posted by The Whelk at 8:07 PM on January 8, 2015


Useless lame duck grandstanding.

Call me when he lowers the student loans rates to the same as Goldman Sachs gets from the Fed.

Obama has plenty of time to stroke the millennial base that elected him now that nothing he says counts for shit.
posted by T.D. Strange at 8:09 PM on January 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


How many of those Panera points will go to HOWARD?
posted by benzenedream at 8:24 PM on January 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


I just want to say to the people who are concerned about transfers and such: the last time you went out to dinner? Odds are whoever's in charge of the kitchen graduated from a CC.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:26 PM on January 8, 2015 [8 favorites]


Imagine the great irony of teaching as an adjunct at CC, where the goal for the students is to hopefully get college degree and a good job, and yet there you are, with several college degrees and getting paid close to minimum wage to teach, with no benefits and no job security.

This comes pretty close to describing my life, and staying optimistic listening to a student tell me their great plans is the hardest part.

But I approve of this entirely.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 8:27 PM on January 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


Haha, I wonder how much I personally dragged down the community college graduation stats in my area. I took classes at 3 or 4 community colleges while in high school, bouncing around from school to school, enrolling wherever I found math and physics courses that fit into my high school schedule. The classes were definitely more rigorous what I had in high school.
posted by ryanrs at 9:30 PM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


And Bush said we'd go to Mars.
posted by xmutex at 9:48 PM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't really get the benefit. Community college is inexpensive but in my experience, most people who can't afford it either do a grant/aid or work-study. It doesn't seem worth a big program to do something that will largely cannibalize other programs.
posted by michaelh at 11:23 PM on January 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's not inexpensive for an enormous number of people, is the thing. How will this cannibalize other programs, and what are they?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:30 PM on January 8, 2015 [7 favorites]


California Community Colleges were tuition-free until the late 70s. Making them more accessible again can only help -- the people who want to make good use of whatever education they can get, that is.
posted by Lukenlogs at 11:44 PM on January 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is a very civilized proposal, but somehow I don't think it's going to get a warm reception.
posted by homunculus at 12:34 AM on January 9, 2015


My experience matches saulgoodman's. It's not universal, but a significant number of CC students actually do move on to four year schools (and beyond).

My boyfriend did his first two years at a community college and then transferred to a four year university. And my local community college has partnered with several local four year schools to offer 2+2 or 3 + 1 programs.
posted by SisterHavana at 2:00 AM on January 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Just because it won't pass congress doesn't mean it's pointless to propose. It's about giving the Overton window a good hard kick to the left, and that's something that's very valuable.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 2:36 AM on January 9, 2015 [14 favorites]


This is a great idea in a number of ways. First, it's an opportunity to cut the cost of a four-year degree significantly. Especially for STEM students, the first year (and some of the second) are taken up with introductory classes and things like English. Better to get those and other prerequisites out of the way at low cost, and pay university tuition for the classes that really matter to your field.

Also, I think a lot of students coming right out of high school lack the maturity to handle university studies. Going to a JC gives them a little more time to figure themselves out and decide what they're interested in. Better to do that closer to home, at low risk and low cost, than at the university where a bout of agonizing self-reappraisal often leads to flunking out, or at best a wasted semester.

Kudos to Barack Obama and to my governor, Bill Haslam (a Republican, by the way).
posted by Pararrayos at 3:44 AM on January 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


It's not inexpensive for an enormous number of people, is the thing. How will this cannibalize other programs, and what are they?

Work-study, grants, scholarships, and financial aid. Students already use these programs if they have trouble paying (or even if they don't.) So, the new plan would just transfer people to a different funding source.
posted by michaelh at 4:28 AM on January 9, 2015


If we're talking about education as opposed to getting a degree then a lot more good can be done by making a minimum mandatory broadband standard to be created and wired up to every home. The federal government gave huge amounts of money ($200 billion) to ISPs for them to wire up America and the money's been squandered. There are so many schools and organizations providing free education online that giving everybody access to that will help a lot more. Plus you won't have to commute to college and thus a lot more people will have access to educational material.
posted by I-baLL at 4:43 AM on January 9, 2015


doing math (which is the majority of the remedial work that trips up folks not suited to college who go anyway)

This. Not just math in general, but algebra in particular. The Carnegie Foundation has a proposal to switch community college math from algebra to statistics that's shown promising results. It got a brief but positive mention in a recent NY Times article about community college students. (In searching for that NY Times article, I came across this one about teaching in a community college.)
posted by fogovonslack at 4:50 AM on January 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


The Carnegie Foundation has a proposal to switch community college math from algebra to statistics that's shown promising results.

Can I just say how obvious this change is and how awesome this would be? (My required baby logic course was basically what kept a lot of students at my last HBCU job from graduating. I was the guy who had to deliver that news, via final grades: "You can't understand modus ponens, so you're not fit for college.") Let's have the President propose this change next: it's not as sexy as proposing [unfunded] free tuition, but it'll make a hell of a lot more difference.
posted by anotherpanacea at 5:07 AM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


As someone who has taught college algebra every semester since starting my job, I support moving from algebra to statistics as the community college math. The other big thing is Quantitative Reasoning courses. The basic problem is that the college algebra class is really meant as preparation for pre-calculus, but most of the students who take college algebra take it as a terminal math class, which means they spend a lot of time learning algorithms which they will never use for their intended purpose. QR classes (in theory) keep the parts of college algebra that are useful in the real world while eliminating the algebraic manipulation that most students will never use again after they finish their math requirement.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 5:12 AM on January 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


Remember, many, if not most, CC's have a very strong core in technical training. I'm seeing this aimed more at the for-profit tech schools than anything else. And that's ok with me.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:36 AM on January 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


This is great. In fact, why don't we just take those two years of publicly funded community college education, make them universal, and call them Grade 13 and Grade 14?

We used to have grade 13 in Ontario (or OAC as it was called then). You didn't have to do it to go to college (what I think is the equivalent to community college in the states?) but you had to do it in order to go to University. They got rid of it some years ago, which kind of made me sad. Going to university at 19 after OAC was much more appropriate for me then going a year earlier. It really prepared me. Especially for the amount of reading, omg.
posted by aclevername at 6:13 AM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Guess what my state did? They passed a law defining students who graduated from a Florida high school in 2007 or more recently as prepared for college. So, we are not allowed to give them placement tests in English or Math anymore, and if they take that placement test of their own free will, they are not required to follow the recommendations they get about taking developmental classes. So, now our success rate will be even worse, the legislature can blame us for being bad teachers, and they can slash our funding even more (and then sell us to some corporation).

Bit of a derail. Sorry.
posted by wittgenstein at 6:29 AM on January 9, 2015 [10 favorites]


Wittgenstein, don't forget that the legislature got pissy about Florida CC's having too many 4-year degrees (the gall we have! How dare we do what they told us to to, but too well!) and suspended that program.

And we're stuck with Voldemort for another term.

Sigh.
posted by oddman at 6:49 AM on January 9, 2015


I found this not to be true, as unlike University of Phoenix, they don't have open enrollment. For example, at the local community college, you have to take placement tests in English and Math that check if you can enter the basic 101 courses. If you don't pass all the modules, you usually have to take remedial courses that aren't worth college credits and help catch you up to what you were supposed to know from high school.

Yes, this. As part of my financial aid package, I worked in our community college's student success center, helping students who needed remediation in English catch up.

So, now our success rate will be even worse, the legislature can blame us for being bad teachers, and they can slash our funding even more (and then sell us to some corporation).

Damn. I didn't know about this. That really sucks.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:56 AM on January 9, 2015


Let's not forget some (all?) states now have programs where high school juniors and seniors can take college classes and the state will pay up to X amount for them each year. I did this in the first year it was available in Ohio (1990 or 91) and knocked out a good number of classes. Combine that with two free years of CC and I probably could have transferred to my alma mater with enough incoming credits to be a junior!

I was also stuck in the parents made *just* too much (actually not, because my parents' professions have them out of work 3 months of every year but financial aid can't handle that scenario) for me to get good aid, and not enough actual money to pay for anything. Add in the free CC and I might have been able to avoid college debt altogether, since most of it came from the required-to-live on campus fees, which were 3x more than tuition.

I think this is great.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 7:04 AM on January 9, 2015


Seriously, why do we stop at Grade 12 when everyone knows that a high school education is insufficient for almost all occupations? Because twelve years is some magic number?

A high school education is insufficient for almost all occupations because high schools are shitty. If we had a magical "Grade 13" and "Grade 14", that would not magically make them better just for being longer.
posted by corb at 7:05 AM on January 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Can I put in a plea to be a little careful about taking community college classes in high school? It's ok if you actually go to the physical campus of a community college, but my state has a big push to get high school students to take classes for community college credit, and most of those classes are taught in their high schools by high school teachers. They are almost never really college-level work, but the state universities are legally obligated to pretend that they are. So if a student comes in with Chemistry I from community college, we must allow them to advance on to Chemistry II without a placement test. Legally, I'm not even supposed to tell students that their community college classes may not prepare them. I've got a very carefully crafted statement that I make to stay within the law but try to convince students to take a placement test, but they don't always read between the lines of what I'm saying.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:18 AM on January 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


They passed a law defining students who graduated from a Florida high school in 2007 or more recently as prepared for college. So, we are not allowed to give them placement tests in English or Math anymore, and if they take that placement test of their own free will, they are not required to follow the recommendations they get about taking developmental classes.

This is a nationwide trend, and it's so typical of the short-sighted rhetoric that politicians use to redefine their commitment to educational access without having to spend any money. At the same time, our writing center budget was decimated, I think in part to the same "sink-or-swim" mentality.

This report shows how miserly many state budgets are in supporting their colleges (hello there, Colorado!), even though tuition rates have risen 28% on average since 2007. Given how little fallout comes from slashing education funding, I can't bring myself to hope for any significant change in the future.
posted by bibliowench at 7:24 AM on January 9, 2015


If community college is free, and all of your credits transfer to a four year college, then 50% of your four year degree is now free.

This only works in the best of situations, for several reasons.

First, my private U has a minimum paymentresidency requirement: most (90 out of 120) credits must be earned here. This is very common for private Us, as I understand it.

Second, majors in my department must take a certain set of courses, and we rarely accept AP or transfer credit for even the basic core major courses.

For Obama's plan to achieve the goal of getting students into and through four-year degrees, it would need to be tightly coordinated with the institutions targeted to receive those students. That coordination might be very different for state and private institutions - it already works well in California, but not so much at my private U.
posted by Dashy at 7:27 AM on January 9, 2015


Dashy, that may be true of private Universities, but the statement that a 4 year degree can be had for 50% remains true. It's just not applicable to all 4 year degrees at all schools. I don't think that's a problem.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 7:45 AM on January 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


As someone who has taught college algebra every semester since starting my job, I support moving from algebra to statistics as the community college math. The other big thing is Quantitative Reasoning courses. The basic problem is that the college algebra class is really meant as preparation for pre-calculus, but most of the students who take college algebra take it as a terminal math class, which means they spend a lot of time learning algorithms which they will never use for their intended purpose. QR classes (in theory) keep the parts of college algebra that are useful in the real world while eliminating the algebraic manipulation that most students will never use again after they finish their math requirement.

I'm kind of shocked you think this. There are lots of problems with the push to make statistics a large part of the pre-college curriculum, but the basic problem (IMHO) is that statistics is an "integrative" subject, that is, it requires you take little facts from a couple of different mathematical subjects and put them together. In contrast, what you need to know to do algebra is a very discrete; it's something you could pursue on a desert island or in a jail cell. Now, lots of people in math ed believe that integrating mathematics in this way is the way things should be taught. But when you drill down into it, it comes down to the belief that people who are good at mathematics learn differently from people who aren't i.e. most of the people taking math. What's seductive about the idea of "integrative mathematics" is that it seems like a way to getting people who will actively disengage from doing, say, algebra to "do" mathematics. But, it's also a way to by-pass the fact that students coming into algebra classes often have atrocious preparation in basic arithmetic. I would argue that the fundamental reason so many students don't engage with algebra is that they aren't comfortable with fractions, or indeed, basic arithmetic operations. It's a way for the math ed community to pass the buck on the pathologies of math education in the US.

But, Algebra isn't particularly useful in the "real world". Math isn't particularly useful for the "real world." In fact, most of what you learn, even in high school, isn't particularly useful. Strangely, the idea that you should only learn "useful" things in school is an idea that, strangely, both the "Left" and "Right" in the US agree on. We are still living with Sputnik era propaganda on the necessity of everyone being good at math but which actually gets in the way of having more people be good at it.
posted by ennui.bz at 8:04 AM on January 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm kind of shocked you think this.

Ultimately I think it's a matter of priorities. I agree that the reason students are "bad at algebra" is that they are bad at fractions and that level of abstraction, and I work hard to make sure my algebra students master the material. But at the end of the day, most of our students will take one math class, and I think many of them will get more out of (in the pursuit of their major and in everyday life) a statistics class or a quantitative reasoning class or a math for the liberal arts class than a college algebra class. A significant fraction of our students are already taking the non-credit developmental math class that precedes college algebra, but they probably need more than one semester of remediation, and there's just not enough time for it.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 8:13 AM on January 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


As a CC student myself, albeit one who only takes 1-2 classes per semester due to work obligations- thus dragging my "two year degree" out to more than three years just in prerequisites- I'm not sure how I feel about this. On one hand, I definitely see that giving free tuition to people who have good grades is a positive thing.

Yet, from my own experience, I know that it took me a long time to really value money and although my tuition has been free for 20 years now(I'm a vet and my state, Connecticut, offers tuition waivers for vets), it's only in the last three or four years that I've hunkered down and applied myself. I might be a small minority but my guess is I'm not.

Why not offer loan forgiveness for those who maintain a certain GPA? Personal economic investment in your future seems like a good way to weed out those who are serious about moving forward from those who aren't. I get that it's a hurdle but maybe that's not a bad thing?

Also, I'd make personal finance management a mandatory first and second year course for all majors. Some people just get it but there are others that need to be shown how, exactly, to manage their money.
posted by dave78981 at 8:24 AM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


College in the United States is also the basis for many rites of passage into adulthood, including moving away from home, earning a degree, and joining the middle class. Some cultures choose these rites deliberately. American culture seems to have stumbled into them and let them be defined by those who could profit.

Nice to see Obama push free community college. It strikes me as both a band aid and realpolitik solution to multiple problems.
posted by ZeusHumms at 8:47 AM on January 9, 2015


Why not offer loan forgiveness for those who maintain a certain GPA?

Because of the huge structural inequality in college preparedness? That's going to end up being mostly a handout to whoever came in with the most privileged background.

It also encourages seeking out the easiest degree (often watered down communications, business or sociology programs) and easiest classes within it. Which is already a problem at a lot of large four year state schools, and is bad for both the real and the perceived value of a degree and the economy and society more generally.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:49 AM on January 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


So, we are not allowed to give them placement tests in English or Math anymore, and if they take that placement test of their own free will, they are not required to follow the recommendations they get about taking developmental classes. So, now our success rate will be even worse,

Maybe, maybe not. My google-fu fails me at the moment, but I recall a study a few years ago that compared students who completed developmental courses with students who placed into developmental courses but skipped them and went straight into the college-level courses. The students who placed into developmental classes but skipped them did as well as the ones who completed developmental courses. As I recall, it was a pretty big study population in the Virginia community college system, but the details are a bit fuzzy in my middle-aged brain. Does anyone else remember that study or have a link?

Why not offer loan forgiveness for those who maintain a certain GPA?

That wouldn't provide a benefit to any of the students where I teach because we don't participate in student loan programs. Students get grants or scholarships or they pay cash.
posted by fogovonslack at 8:49 AM on January 9, 2015


the statement that a 4 year degree can be had for 50% remains true. It's just not applicable to all 4 year degrees at all schools. I don't think that's a problem.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm a huge, huge fan of the CC system and have seen it work very well. I'd like to see it work even better. I'm worried that if CC becomes free (and I hope it will), the Us will build up the barriers, and cost, to transfer and/or completion, defeating the original purpose.
posted by Dashy at 9:02 AM on January 9, 2015


Thanks, Obama.

No, seriously, thanks Obama, if you can get this implemented.
posted by Wordshore at 9:04 AM on January 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Because of the huge structural inequality in college preparedness? That's going to end up being mostly a handout to whoever came in with the most privileged background.

Isn't the program Obama suggested also based on GPA?
posted by dave78981 at 9:05 AM on January 9, 2015


if you can get this implemented.

The GOP congress will take one look at this and quickly shuffle it off to die in committee. Spend money on domestic prorities proposed by the hated Kenyan Monarch? Not likely while there are 20-week abortion bans to be passed!

Question is why is Obama proposing this now, instead of 4 months ago when the Democrats had precious little to run on in the midterms? Constructive education proposals could have made some sort of difference in the dismal youth turnout and actually had some sort of life in a better Democratic electoral environment.

At this point Obama might as well propose that the federal government buy everyone a unicorn or offer a round trip tour of the solar system for all the chance that anything he endorses has greater than a 0.000001 percent chance of passing through the teabagger congress.
posted by T.D. Strange at 9:44 AM on January 9, 2015


Regarding problems with remediation, the college where I work and many other open access college are moving away from requiring remediation as a prerequisite and changing to a corequisite remediation model.

Broadly defined, corequisite remediation is the delivery of academic support to academically underprepared students while they are learning gateway course content in the same subject. For example, in a corequisite model of support, a student assessed below college ready in English might enroll in both college-level English and an academic support course in English in the same semester.

We are seeing huge success in it, with students much more likely to exit remediation and to continue on in college.
posted by hydropsyche at 9:46 AM on January 9, 2015 [8 favorites]


That's really interesting hydropsyche. We have something similar with English, and it works really well, but we still do old-style remedial classes in math. Do you do it with math, too? I would be really interested to hear how that worked.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:58 AM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think this is mostly a good thing, but the catch is this: we, as a society, tend to assume "college" is the answer to a whole host of educational, economic, and social problems that it is really not the answer to (though it may be part of the answer to some of them). It's go to college, get skills, get good job, generate economic activity. We place way too much importance on the "go to college" part of that equation, probably because just putting people in college is a lot easier than, say, fixing the middle class. Its a nice, neat, little milestone that we can tell everyone to strive for.

But we don't ask - at least not enough: who are these people we are putting in college? What are the "skills" they are trying to acquire, and how do they go about acquiring them? Who is going to teach them those skills? How are these institutions run, and how are they funded?

I think people often make an attribution error about the value of a college degree. People who go to college are more likely to do better in life than people who don't, it's true. But that's not because they went to college - at least, not usually. It's because, the way our system is currently set up, the people who are more likely to do well are more likely to go to college. The value of college is largely as a signaling mechanism - and the more people you put there, the more you degrade the value of the signal.

Basically, we've asked colleges to make up for the shortcomings of our K-12 education system, and for the unwillingness of our companies to train their workers. This is an untenable position. There are people who can benefit immensely from a college education, including some who are currently shut out of it. Hopefully this will help them - and if it does, that's a good thing. But it isn't going to have a meaningful impact on economic inequality, or social mobility, or anything like that.
posted by breakin' the law at 10:08 AM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


@RonCharles: "Like most Americans I'm concerned that Obama's community college proposal could cut into special tax breaks for hedge fund managers."
posted by Golden Eternity at 10:20 AM on January 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


Literally half of my high school class dropped out before graduation or never passed the basic high school graduation test, which was basically passable by anyone who could read. That's not an exaggeration. The questions were things like "Count how much money there is in this picture."
posted by the jam at 10:57 AM on January 9, 2015


My google-fu fails me at the moment, but I recall a study a few years ago that compared students who completed developmental courses with students who placed into developmental courses but skipped them and went straight into the college-level courses.
Perhaps you're thinking of this one: Jenkins et al. (2009) In digging around a bit, I also found what looks to be a nice list some similar studies at the start of this paper.

One might worry that self-selection makes interpreting that result a bit complicated. It wouldn't be surprising if students who get recommended for remediation and then enroll in gatekeeper courses are more motivated, have more self confidence, or have better expert guidance than those who comply with the recommendation. But, when combined with the other studies that track students just above and just below score cutoffs, the result sure doesn't look good for remediation as it's practiced currently.
posted by eotvos at 11:05 AM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Free two-year job (re)training programs -- for example, you already spent the money on a four-year degree in anthropology but now you decide should have just chosen something a little more prosaic like plumbing or programming -- would be very cool for lots of people. Or would this be available only to kids fresh out of high school?
posted by pracowity at 12:39 PM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


fffm: Odds are whoever's in charge of the kitchen graduated from a CC.

Heck, whoever pulls you from a wreck or saves you from a burning house in Rhode Island probbaly went to CCRI: their two-year AA fire science degree is de rigeur for fireman state-wide.

I love the Community College of Rhode Island: we're small enough a state that there is CCRI -> Rhode Island College -> University of Rhode Island, with students transferring in and out to/from private, 4-year schools. It works.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:50 PM on January 9, 2015


A couple miles from me is a co-located campus between a community college and a satellite branch of the University of Washington. They offer 2 and 4 year degrees, both . . . academic and career oriented? I don't know the right jargon to use. Their 2 year degrees include transfer degrees (five of them; business and global studies, which are both business degrees, integrated studies, pre-nursing, and science) as well as terminal professional programs. And then the state university system takes over and offers 300 and 400 level classes to complete degrees in business, environmental studies and engineering, generalized "liberal arts," a bachelor's in nursing, and a shitload of STEM degrees. Same buildings, frequently the same faculty, but there's more support for non-traditional students and the first half of the credits are half the cost. I think this is a great system and wish there were more like it.
posted by KathrynT at 1:07 PM on January 9, 2015


corb: The people who can get good grades out of shitty schools are probably fine already.
You're gonna have to back that up with data, because most of the studies I've seen suggest that low-family income means no college for the vast majority of students, period.

Yes, there are exceptions, but statistically American economic classes are very rigidly hereditary.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:12 PM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


There's a lot of snobbery going on in this thread:

"Community colleges suck!" ... except they are exactly where a HUGE portion of our skilled labor gets their skills. Dental hygeniest, welder, CAD operator: all good-paying jobs that typically require 2-year degrees.

"Smart kids don't need help!"... already debunked that. Yuck.

"Why doesn't Obama implement 100% free doctoral diplomas and unicorns, two days after he was first sworn in?" Because: real world. I think he's far from perfect, but "Why didn't you do this good thing sooner and better?" is lame. It's damn near crab-potting.

Hell, I went to a community college for some early classes, and got better education (due to a much lower student/teacher ratio) than I would have if I took those same classes at uni.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:22 PM on January 9, 2015 [8 favorites]


Some initial commentary from DeanDad, First Thoughts on Taking Tennessee National, who is intrigued but skeptical:
Apparently, the federal plan would cover 75 percent of the “average cost” of a community college, with states required to put up the rest. Already, I’m nervous. Although the article refers to “cost,” I’m guessing the program actually refers to “price,” which is not the same thing. Most public colleges set prices well below cost, by design. A national average price would wreak havoc on higher-price regions, such as my own. [ed: he's in MA.]
(FWIW, I've been reading his blog since the early 00s, when I was working at a CC, and he was still anonymous.)
posted by epersonae at 1:24 PM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Question is why is Obama proposing this now, instead of 4 months ago when the Democrats had precious little to run on in the midterms?

Even if he did propose it four months ago, remember, the Democratic "strategy" in 2014 was to distance themselves from President Obama - so they wouldn't have run on it anyway.
posted by SisterHavana at 1:26 PM on January 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


most of the studies I've seen suggest that low-family income means no college for the vast majority of students, period.

Feel free to link them. What I've seen is that the people who have few life distractions and achieve good grades in high school have little trouble getting into and paying for community college if they want to - see, for example, Pell Grants and other financial aid. The problem is more how to live overall.
posted by corb at 2:28 PM on January 9, 2015


That's really interesting hydropsyche. We have something similar with English, and it works really well, but we still do old-style remedial classes in math. Do you do it with math, too? I would be really interested to hear how that worked.

We have been doing co-requisite remediation in math and writing for 2 years now. Not all students qualify for co-requisite remediation in those subjects--some have to begin in pre-requisite remediation. We also have a remedial college reading program and ESL programs that are still pre-requisite only, with no co-requisite equivalent.

Beginning in the fall, we will be differentiating freshman math (something also discussed in this thread) so that STEM majors will still take College Algebra in prep for the sequence through Calculus and non-STEM majors will take (or have the choice of taking) Quantitative Reasoning. When that happens, there will also be differential remediation standards, so that students will have to have higher test scores to avoid co-requisite remediation in College Algebra, whereas students with lower test scores will be considered college ready without remediation for Quantitative Reasoning.

I'm a biology professor, so none of this applies to me directly, except insofar as I expect them to be able to read a book, write a paper, and do basic algebra when I have them in class for the first time. But I advise students, including students at various stages in the remediation process, and I have seen the effectiveness of co-requisite remediation in both teaching them things and keeping their confidence and enthusiasm up until they are truly college ready.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:12 PM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


There is no way in hell University of Phoenix, Kaplan, and all the other for profit unis out there are going to just roll over and let the Feds steal their bread and butter. But, I do like this idea a lot.
posted by Gotanda at 4:11 PM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


what this turns into is another thing that gives poor people second-class systems

Actually, this program isn't really about the poor. The poor can already get Pell Grants. This is about a long overdue helping hand for a struggling and stuck middle class.
posted by JackFlash at 9:18 PM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


NJ Transfer is New Jersey's website for determining which community college credits transfer to four year schools (In state). It also tells you what class a course transfers to. This is an amazing thing.

I found out about it after my first semester in a jersey CC. As a 'nontraditional' student, I fulltimed at the CC for a year+ (start of one summer semester to the end of the next), managed to get an associates, transfered to my four year school, and finished off a BS there in less than two.

From what I was led to understand, the 4 year colleges review the course plans at the CCs and decide whether or not to take credits for a given class. The four years get better students, the CCs have the draw of guaranteed transfer, the student dosen't waste their time and money unnecessarily.

If you think your state's CCs need fixing... well, this seems like a way that works.
posted by Orb2069 at 9:58 PM on January 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


what this turns into is another thing that gives poor people second-class systems

Actually, this program isn't really about the poor. The poor can already get Pell Grants. This is about a long overdue helping hand for a struggling and stuck middle class.


Another way to think about it is demystifying the Pell Grant process. Many first generation college students have heard about financial aid but don't really know how it works. Many of them assumed that they probably couldn't afford to go to any college without even applying. The FAFSA process is difficult and time consuming and requires students to have access to their parents' tax returns and then wait quite a while before hearing how much aid they have. And the amount available sometimes changes year to year for unclear reasons.

Just saying "The first two years of college is free" is much, much easier for first generation students (of any income level) to understand, saves time and paperwork, and likely would greatly reduce the financial aid bureaucracy on these campuses and at the federal level.
posted by hydropsyche at 7:32 AM on January 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


Did Obama Just Introduce a 'Public Option' for Higher Education? "Public options, in other words, are one of the simplest forms of regulations available." (via)

The biggest winners in Obama's free college plan: middle-class students - "The most radical part of Obama's free community college proposal isn't that it's free — it's that it's universal." (via)
posted by kliuless at 12:00 PM on January 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


Seriously, why do we stop at Grade 12 when everyone knows that a high school education is insufficient for almost all occupations? Because twelve years is some magic number?

Just as a practical matter, because most people would turn 18 by grade 13 and you can't force adults go to school? (Just a guess.)
posted by Room 641-A at 7:07 AM on January 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


You can drop out at 16 if you want, so that's not a new situation.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 11:47 AM on January 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Without parental consent? Wow, not in California:

CA Education Code Section 48200.
Each person between the ages of 6 and 18 years not exempted under the provisions of this chapter or Chapter 3 (commencing with Section 48400) is subject to compulsory full-time education.
But my point still stands: you can construct legal and social incentives to compel (or at least encourage) guardians to educate their 16-year olds in some manner but you can't force your 18-year old to finish 12th grade, let alone force them to continue living in their high school district. I'm not even suggesting that 13th/14th grade would be a bad idea, just suggesting a reason we don't do it. Anyway, I assume the question was geared to kids who aren't dropping out.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:57 PM on January 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Went looking and found this interesting chart of ages of compulsory education by state. 16 looks like the most common, but plenty of 17 and 18 too. Anyway, kind of off topic, but I thought it was interesting to see.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 12:25 AM on January 12, 2015


corb: most of the studies I've seen suggest that low-family income means no college for the vast majority of students, period.

Feel free to link them. What I've seen is that the people who have few life distractions and achieve good grades in high school have little trouble getting into and paying for community college if they want to
The set "few life distractions" does not intersect the set of "low-income family income".

Once again, we hear that the problem with the poor is their own fault. Silly poor people! Why don't they just live without distractions?
posted by IAmBroom at 1:15 PM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


You have clearly deeply misread me. My point was not to somehow blame the poor, but to say these problems would not all go away with a $4,000$ education check.
posted by corb at 11:39 PM on January 12, 2015




Community colleges have been the load-bearing wall for overburdened, mismanaged state university systems for a while now (a nice example of this is the recent approval of limited 4-year programs at some California CCs.) There's no way in hell that Obama could straight up say "You motherfuckers need to stop raiding university funds every time the state budget comes up short or we're federalizing public higher education," but maybe he can say "We're guaranteeing CC for all graduating seniors with accompanying mandates on funding and regulation."

Clever. I hope he succeeds.
posted by kagredon at 4:47 AM on January 14, 2015 [1 favorite]




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