The president is proposing that community college should be free for all, but a Pope Center opinion piece
says the government should be determining who really deserves financial aid, not how much the government can provide them.
As it already is, writes columnist Vic Brown, financial aid programs have meant that students and parents had "less skin in the game," and the help may be "part of the reason why approximately half of all college students nationwide fail to graduate within six years."
President Barack Obama's plan calls for two years of community college
to be funded by federal and state governments for students who enroll at least half time and maintain a 2.5 grade point average.
And while community colleges hail the plan, critics see the plan as "another loosely managed entitlement" and "more wasteful government spending."
But Brown noted that things were much different back in the 1960s, when he went to college, when only the people with sufficient grades and whose families could afford tuition would go to college.
And as a college student, parent of three college graduates, a business professional, and a college instructor, Brown said his views of the value of a college education remain the same.
Brown said when he graduated in 1970, Census data showed just 11 percent of the adults in the United States had degrees, and with "trade schools, military service and labor markets ... students all seemed to find their way after high school graduation."
But people who wanted to go to college had to work hard for the opportunity, and have sufficient grades, not like now, when schools do not require standardized test scores but instead consider community and extracurricular activity, said Brown.
"I don’t recall financial aid being addressed in the college brochures of that time," said Brown. "Americans saved for college and very few considered aid other than scholarships because they didn’t think it was appropriate to borrow for education."
But now the process has become more complex and tuition costs have skyrocketed, leading to financial aid packages being pushed, said Brown.
Brown said he and his wife saved for their children's education, but many of their friends with similar incomes did not, and their children received grants and low-interest loans financed in part "by full pay" students.
"If those students were bright, hardworking and needy, I was all for it," he said. "But I knew many of those students from the neighborhood. Their parents bought them cars, financed spring break trips to Cancun, and the like — all the while accepting student aid. Financial aid was getting easier and easier to obtain, from multiple sources."
And as a result of such financial aid, college education grew to be less important, a trend he noted in his own classes, where there was a "10-80-10" bell curve, with those who were working hard getting more out of an education.
But federally backed student loans make it too easy for students to attend school without having to ever pay the money back all the way, said Brown, and government financing already allows most students to go to community colleges for free or even to make extra money for going.
"Where would Obama’s proposed additional money go?" he said. "To the students for living expenses? If so, they have even less skin in the game."
He said he wants to know where it will all end, and speculated that the government one day will pay for full, graduate-school educations.
"I am strongly committed to higher education, especially in the sciences and math where we are lagging other countries," said Brown.
"I also understand that there are students of limited means, and they need a hand up in life. But we seem to no longer draw rational lines between serious students who need assistance, and the many non-serious students who squander it."
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