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SPRING 2015 21

The adoption of President Obama’s plan to make two years at a community free would have a profoundly positive impact on American society. Despite costing significantly less than most higher education institutions, community college tuition is still out of reach for millions of students and their families. The recession of 2008 has had a lasting effect on many—those who remain unemployed, those who found jobs but earn far less pay, and those who lost borrowing power, including home equity—who may otherwise have been able to fund their postsecondary education. Just this past fall at my own institution, 1,300 students who completed our entry process through course registration ultimately dropped out before classes were underway. One of the major reasons was they could not pay their tuition.

While there are clear signs of recovery, many Americans find themselves grappling with the “new economy.” The more than one trillion dollar student loan debt is frightening and many are questioning the value of higher education as a result. While those of us in the field readily rec-

ognize the need for education beyond high school to make a life-sustaining wage, far too many students are choosing work over school. Even among those who enroll, there are many who adjust their schedules from full- to three-quarter time, then down to half- or one-quarter time and,

unfortunately, far too often, withdraw altogether because work gets in the way. Such behavior contributes significantly to low completion rates. For students who were the recipients of financial aid, including loans, their situation is bleak. They walk away in debt with nothing to show for it, or, even worse, many are referred to collection agencies because of outstanding balances result- ing from colleges returning Title IV funds that had been used in their financial aid packages.

Two years of community college, tuition free, may not eliminate students working while going to school, but it would certainly mitigate them feeling compelled to work so many hours. Even putting work on hold until a marketable credential is in hand may be an appealing trade- off for many who could not conceive of doing



By Fran Cubberley


such a thing now. Of course, the cost of attending college exceeds tuition; there are still expenses such as transportation, books, child care, food, and lodging, but there are other resources available that could assist with these. Clearly, removing the barrier of tuition would go a long way in providing greater access and opportunity.

Students able to take advantage of up to two tuition-free years at a community college would have a choice of pathways. Completing an indus- try-recognized certificate in a year or less could put thousands of Americans in the work force in high demand jobs that pay well and oftentimes offer health benefits and retirement plans. These certificates can be parlayed into an associate’s

degree in a career program, further strengthening earning power. Furthermore, because technical education today requires higher skills than what used to be required in “vocational education,” a growing number of four-year institutions offer bachelor’s degrees in applied fields, partnering with community colleges to provide seamless transfer. Such a pathway may even be totally free if students land jobs upon completion of their first credentials with employers willing to pay for continuing education.

Where limited resources preclude a number of people from considering college, having the opportunity to enroll in community college for free could inspire, and prepare, many to realize

their dream of obtaining a bachelor’s degree. This could positively influence the enrollment pipeline for many four-year colleges and universities, deflecting some of their criticism that the Obama proposal excludes them. As I see it, this would be a win-win for all.

NACAC members would have much to gain if the proposal is adopted. School counselors would have an option for every high school grad- uate, and the real possibility of college could and should be instilled in students and families early on, especially among underrepresented populations and non-native English speakers. Community-based organizations working with a wide spectrum of constituencies would have a viable option to promote among the populations they serve, including youth, ex-offenders, adults with some college and those with no post-high school experience. Postsecondary members, especially those working at institutions who are feeling effects of a changing demographic and declining pool of high school graduates, could create or strengthen their relationships with community colleges, developing strong partner- ships that provide clear and seamless pathways for students who develop their academic sea- legs through associate degree attainment. Many

four-year schools have already jumped on the transfer bandwagon, recognizing that associate degree completers are more likely to earn their bachelor’s degree than students beginning with them as freshmen. More expensive four-year colleges would most likely see a broader appli- cant pool among students whose resources are more available or who might be more amenable to taking on a student loan as a result of their first two years being tuition free. With “Trans- fer” as a strategic priority, NACAC would have even greater impetus to shape the conversation among school counselors and postsecondary ad- mission professionals, enhance understanding of the benefits and value community colleges offer to students and parents, and promote best practices to support an increased number of community college students seeking the next phase of their academic journeys.

As an enrollment manager at a community college, I am both thrilled and concerned about President Obama’s proposal. I would love to see an undertaking that would help eradicate the growing chasm between the haves and the have-nots. However, free tuition will not cover the cost of educating and serving students, and senior management and the boards of

FROM THE WHITE HOUSE Nearly a century ago, a movement that made high school widely available helped lead to rapid growth in the education and skills training of Americans, driving decades of economic growth and prosperity. Now, President Obama has called for the first two years of community college to be free for responsible students, helping them earn the first half of a bachelor’s degree and gain skills needed in the workforce at no cost.

The America’s College Promise proposal would create a new partnership with states to help them waive tuition in high-quality programs, while promoting key reforms to help more students complete at least two years of college. If all states participate, an estimated 9 million students could benefit. A full-time community college student could save an average of $3,800 in tuition per year.



The latest resource on


www.nacacnet.org/ research/transfer

SPRING 2015 23

trustees will need to adopt creative financial strategies to maintain quality services and in- struction. Furthermore, should the flood gates open and hundreds, or even thousands, more students descend on our doorstep, our capac- ity to serve them will be severely tested. The recession hit colleges and universities hard too, and most of us are not in the position to simply add more staff and faculty to meet the needs of an exploding mass. Implementation

of the President’s plan will require a thorough examination of community colleges’ opera- tions and systems; an understanding of the breadth and scope of our diverse populations and services needed to support their success; exploration and adoption of practices that expand operational efficiencies; and the iden- tification of supplemental funding sources will be needed to support such an endeavor.

Despite the daunting nature of all this, I welcome the opportunity to be a part of the discussion and planning, should this monumental change come to pass. The challenges would be great, but the benefits even greater.

Fran Cubberley is vice president for enrollment management at Delaware County Community College, and a former member of the NACAC Board of Directors.


YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGES NACAC members were asked in 2007 and 2014 surveys to identify the most valuable benefits of membership. (Only the top five are shown).

Professional development

Up-to-date information*

Idea/sharing/best practices

Ethical guidelines/standards

Resources to do my job better


2007 2014


CAUGHT IN CONGRESS To come to fruition, the president’s proposal would need Congressional approval, which leaders in both the House and Senate have made clear will not take place in the current Congress. Senator Lamar Alexander, chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, noted that while “the President was in the right church” with the community college proposal, he was “in the wrong pew,” suggesting that he and fellow Congressional Republicans would not be able to support a “huge new federal program.”

*In response to members’ expressed need for more news about current trends and events in college admission, NACAC has launched a new free email news summary called Today in College Admission.

It provides a twice weekly review of the most relevant college admission headlines. This exclusive NACAC member benefit arrives in your email inbox each Tuesday and Thursday morning.

Please add NACACToday@nacac.bulletinmedia.com to your address books!


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