Taking a cue from the Tennessee Promise, a scholarship announced in February 2014 that provides state residents with a free community college education, the United States hopes that America’s College Promise will embolden the economy and “train our work face so that we can compete with anybody in the world,” President Barack Obama said.
Speaking to a crowd at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee, President Obama announced the new program, a groundbreaking federal proposal that would provide a free, two-year community college education to those who are “willing to work for it.”
The stipulations consist of maintaining a 2.5 GPA and pursuing graduation, according to the White House.
And while the proposal is currently in its early stages and must go on to receive support on state and congressional levels, its fundamental message is one that has been debated among educators for years.
The proposal has wide-reaching implications, too, as the nearly 7 million undergraduates – part-time and full-time – currently enrolled in community colleges throughout the nation constitute almost half of the nation’s total undergraduate population.
And Temple is no exception: like many other public, state-associated institutions, it allows community college students to directly transfer their course credits to the university and obtain a bachelor’s degree.
Temple even goes a step further and employs a “dual admissions” program, which allows students who are accepted to eleven local community colleges, like Montgomery County Community College and the Community College of Philadelphia, to be simultaneously admitted to Temple; Temple also provides a number of merit scholarships to these students.
Between America’s College Promise and Temple’s dual admissions program, a student could save up to $28,000.
The decision will benefit students financially and will also be an attractive option to many prospective Temple students who could otherwise not afford a full, four-year program; it is a viable option precisely because it allows them to transfer their credits and obtain a bachelor’s from a university like Temple.
Dr. Jerry Parker, the president of Delaware County Community College, said that students are “having a hard time paying their bills – not just tuition bills.”
“A good number of students come unprepared from high school and most of our students are working, so they’re trying to go to work and school at the same time,” Parker said. “Before they know it, they get behind and they just disappear, and that’s one of the reasons our graduation rates are low – it’s a combination of financial barriers and not coming prepared. Anything that would help students deal with some of those other barriers, like working that extra job, would go a long way to help our students be more successful.”
And that’s where the plan shines: it would alleviate a major burden – the tuition – for students, allowing them perhaps to work an hour less of their part-time job to afford a specific class.
Ariel Avitan, a student transferring to Temple from the Community College of Philadelphia, praised America’s College Promise.
“Most of the people who attend community college do so to save money and stay out of debt with loans for as long as possible,” Avitan said. “So allowing the first two years of community [college] to be free will allow people to get a good education and graduate, or continue with their educations at another university if they please, all while saving a couple thousand dollars.”
However, there are a number of concerns that must be addressed, the most notable, of which, is its singularity.
Dr. Corrinne Caldwell, professor emeritus of educational leadership and policy studies, also believes financial assistance is not the only promise that has to be made.
“I don’t want to de-emphasize the importance of community colleges, but if we support the students financially, we need to support them academically as well,” she said.
Currently, of the 81 percent of students starting community college intend to pursue at least a bachelor’s degree, only 20 percent end up transferring to a four-year institution within five years, according to the Community College Research Center at Columbia University.
Interestingly, the 2,716 transfer students who moved to Temple in Fall 2013 from community colleges after earning their associates degrees academically outperformed native Temple students, Caldwell said.
“One of the reasons this happens is because by the time [students] have graduated from community college, they’ve excelled where many haven’t,” she said.
For an institution like Temple, that is already prepared to recieve thousands of transfer students a year, this program offers an opportunity to make the best out of a college education and all that both institutions have to offer.
In addition to more focus on early childhood education, Caldwell said, for instance, mentors, learning centers, tutoring could engage and help students.
Ultimately, the proposal is certainly much-needed and welcomed; however, it is only an incipient step of what needs to be done. America’s College Promise will lay the foundation, but in order for the plan to be successful and to truly shine, it is imperative that it provides not only a financial promise to students, but also a promise of academic support – a promise that will have the ability to parlay ambitions, hopes, and hard work into successes.
Romsin McQuade can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org