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About this blog: The Raucous Caucus shares the southpaw perspectives of this Boomer on the state of the nation, the world, and, sometimes, other stuff. I enjoy crafting it to keep current, and occasionally to rant on some issue I care about deeply...  (More)

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The ?Free? Community College Forum

Uploaded: Jan 28, 2015
One of the more intriguing concepts floated by The Prez* in his recent State of the Union speech touts 'free' community college as a smart 21st century public investment (and, of course, one more reason for young people to vote Democratic in some future election of which he won't partake).

Details are few, so far. And while it is tempting to the ol' perfesser to see it as a natural educational evolution and a bargain at a $6B/year drop in the federal ocean (if true), I have more questions than answers. I'll raise a few here, and hope that any readers with greater knowledge (and not just duller axes) will chime-in.

First: is this a good public investment? The US and other nations have long considered tuition-free, K-12 education to be a good thing for society. 170 years ago, Horace Mann called universal education a 'wellspring of freedom' and a 'ladder of opportunity' for millions. Have we reached a point where informed citizenship requires greater sophistication than a HS diploma provides? (judging solely by certain comments my blogs receive, it's clearly no panacea) Assuming it's well-focused and taught (more on that below), is more universal education an investment we make in ourselves on those terms alone?

Continuing on Mann's themes -- will an extension of universal education make a fundamental difference to the prospects of young people whose worst flaw is growing up in poverty? Tennessee has embarked on a similar plan within its borders: is there evidence that it is providing a route-up, particularly for economically disadvantaged students?

In addition, are we better-off as a society competing in global markets with a workforce that has been more thoroughly prepared? How will this plan impact the USA's overall profile as a place to produce 21st century goods and services? Does America need it to keep up with others? Will it raise the average of American capabilities above those of China, India, Russia or Germany? If so, is that effect enough to justify the cost? Or, in our free labor markets, ought those training costs to be borne by the employers or potential employees who directly benefit? Is this 'corporate welfare,' in addition to being a recipient 'entitlement?'

Second, in terms of bang-for-the-buck, just how well do community colleges perform, as a group and individually? That begs the further question of what we're asking them to do. As an example, when Rahm Emanuel left the White House and became Chicago's mayor, he perceived a disconnect between the regional CCs and regional vocational needs. I understand that he dismantled and refocused those colleges on skills training, and formed relationships with leading local employers. Is that their best role? Is that what they're doing? Are they doing it well, and how would we know?

Third, let's assume for the moment that the answers above are all positive. Then the question becomes: who should underwrite the effort, how, and what standards would/should they enforce? Education gets a dog's breakfast of public funding from federal, state and local sources. Is federal funding a good idea, or is that better left to the locals? And what (inevitable) strings ought to attach to federal aid?

Any thoughts?

Most of the commentary I've seen so far is from knee-jerks who believe that Any (non-defense) spending is bad, and/or that the great unwashed masses ought not to receive a hand-out. They contrast the GI Bill, which has been credited with catalyzing much mid-century economic progress, but was 'earned' as a benefit of direct service, rather than assumed as a matter of mere citizenship. Frankly, I think America's mid-century economic dominance had a lot to do with the rest of the world's industrial capacity smoldering in ruins (hence it deteriorated after 'they' all rebuilt more modern factories), but I am not a student of that history.

Having framed some major issues that I cannot resolve in my current state of understanding, I look forward to hearing back from those who can, or at least think they can. Also, what other issues did I miss?

Please weigh-in -- thanks!

* Sorry, but I cannot abide acronyms like POTUS and SCOTUS. They evoke appliances whose seats must stay down (we're often told) between engagements, and what to avoid scratching in public, and especially during televised football games.
Local Journalism.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Herman Glates, a resident of Danville,
on Jan 28, 2015 at 1:59 pm

Liberals like Tom have a problem understanding money, specifically how much things cost and what we can afford.

Where do they think we?d get the money to pay for free community college? Higher taxes? Good luck with that. We?re already borrowing up to $1 trillion per year to pay our bills. We don?t have enough money to pay for what we?ve already promised. Stop dreaming about what you?d like to do with other people?s money.

Pumping government money into the college system makes things worse. It has caused college costs to increase at a rate far faster than inflation. Colleges have had little incentive to control costs with the knowledge that they can pass costs on to taxpayers and students who will borrow to pay for it. The price increase has put college out of reach for many who at one time could afford it.

Obama?s proposal for "free" community college throws more money at the problem, ensuring costs will continue to rise. Those not qualifying will pay more to subsidize those who do.

For too many students, college has become a chance to avoid growing up, instead of a way to get skills and be a productive adult. 40% of college graduates work in a field that does not require a college degree. Meanwhile, millions of jobs go unfilled because employers cannot find people with the right type of college degrees. Too many artists, not enough scientists.

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore,
on Jan 28, 2015 at 4:03 pm


. Line #3 - He was a strong thilly-willy C+ kinda kid, that's not so bad!

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore,
on Jan 28, 2015 at 4:11 pm

bush was also consulted on the matter of: Web Link

restorative justice or what?

i rest my case...

Posted by American, a resident of Danville,
on Jan 28, 2015 at 6:11 pm

It should be based on financial need for free community college...I don't object to disadvantaged students getting financial aid, but object to my tax dollars being spent on free community college for some rich kid in Danville who screwed around in high school, couldn't get into a real 4 year college, and his parents can afford pay for community college...Also troubled by news reports of some community college students complaining of need free housing and living expenses as well because they have children... If we start giving free community college to everyone, next thing will be Democrats complaining also need free housing and living expenses.
By the way, contrary to Tom's statement this free community college is another reason for students vote for Democrats, to those students who did not screw around in high school and are going to 4 year college, this is another reason for you to not vote for Democrats who want to reward those who screwed around and penalize your parents who have to pay for these students with increased taxes.

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore,
on Jan 28, 2015 at 6:35 pm

Tens of thousands of American/foreign students attend 2 yr. colleges and then transfer to 4 yr. colleges/universities. For poor students, it's too costly to move away from home because of all the additional expenses. Unless they are awarded scholarships which cover multiple living expenses, it makes sense to transfer after graduating from a 2 year college. If the first two years are FREE, terrific!

Many Americans already receive free housing is nothing new.

If America wants to tap into the brain power of poor students, I completely support that...yup...VIVA!

I doubt that students would vote for Democratic candidates simply because they have benefited from an American education. If anything, they make take voting more seriously and become more responsible Americans.

Perhaps there could be a plan to place ALL AMERICANS WHO BENEFIT from a free college education, into an organized program so that they in turn help educate other Americans.

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Jan 29, 2015 at 7:22 am

You know, I used to encourage Glates to start writing his own blog. I now realize that he declines because it would require him to write something new, at least occasionally. Attacking this CC measure on economic grounds is like arguing for-or-against the Keystone pipeline on energy security or environmental apocalypse grounds, respectively: the effects are trivial, either way.

If this would indeed cost $60B over a decade, then it's about $6B/year in a federal budget of $3.9 Trillion -- the ratio is 6/3,900, or 15/100 of 1%. Trivial. If your neck veins bulge at that number, the solution isn't fiscal -- it's medical. That's why all the other issues I raised are more interesting. (of course, the embedded assumption that taxes can never be raised is also tenuous).

American's objection is more focused on need-based aid -- but it ignores the issue of whether this is a good public investment. Nobody argues that HS seniors should have to pay tuition; I think that's because we're used to it. What is it about the 13th year that makes it elective? Again, I don't know the answers, but I think a thorough policy analysis starts with that question (and doesn't get mired in 'rich frat-boy' imagery).

And cholo: I think we need to put a filter on the comments section that deletes Any response containing the phrase "tee hee." I do not like 'moderating' this stuff, but I have, and I will. Please try to stay at least tangentially on-point, okay?

Posted by San Ramon Observer, a resident of San Ramon,
on Feb 2, 2015 at 1:44 am

San Ramon Observer is a registered user.

I teach online for University of Phoenix. University of Phoenix has open enrollment. There are no limits to how many students can be accepted and no requirements other than a High School Diploma or GED.

New students in the Associates Degree program are so happy to be in college, but many are not able to work at a college level. The public schools they graduated from did not provide a proper education. Too many are functionally illiterate. I doubt that adding two more years of Government supported schooling where they live will make them any better educated.

These students have been told that all they need is a college degree to be able to get a good job. Too many jobs these days require a college degree, possibly because the High School Diploma doesn't mean what it used to.

Tacking on two more years of schooling for students who went through 12 years without learning how to write a sentence, won't make things better for most of them, and most of them don't know how little they know. They believe a college degree is the gateway to a better life. They don't understand the difference between a degree and an education. It's very sad.


Posted by Taxpayer, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood,
on Feb 2, 2015 at 8:17 am

First, aren't 'Community' colleges funded mostly by the 'community'....local districts, and individual states? If so, then isn't this another of Obama's new tax proposals to collect nationally. Are all 'community' colleges in the 50 states, operated/funded the same? So is this a redistribution plan to equalize states?
As I understand, colleges pretty much spend the first year on reading, writing, and arithmetic that goof-offs didn't absorb in high school. Obama has already convinced groups to fill our colleges in recent years, under the assumption that, by 'attending' (comprehending or not) top jobs will suddenly become available to them. We're already paying 'their' tuition. Those 'underserved' are currently filling Ca state college seats, at our expense. Those already free seats for the poor are 'CAUSING" fees for struggling, taxpaying, middle-class to sky-rocket in cost per seat. Those average, reasonably skilled students who actually could move forward with a degree, are currently living at home and attending and PAYING for community college, hoping to transfer. By upper division, many of the free riders will have dropped by the way, hopefully opening seats for serious middle-income students paying their own way. With the college influx of 'underserved' in recent years, administrators squeezed out those living at home because mid-level parents have suffered job difficulties these last 6 years.
Are there going to suddenly be an 'increase' in number of 'seats' for all...the well-off, the always pay-own-way taxpayers, plus all free-loaders learning math and English they didn't learn in high school?
In CA it already 'pays' to be poor....nets out better than some middle taxpayers.

Posted by American, a resident of Danville,
on Feb 2, 2015 at 9:09 am

I think Roz makes some excellent points.

Also wonder if it is a coincidence that "Dr. Jill Biden"(as she demands to be called even though she is not a medical doctor( PH.d) ) teaches at a community college?

Interesting that Mrs. Obama( who has a Juris Doctorate) does not demand to be called "Dr. Obama".

Tom, I assume you, similar to me, do not demand to be called "Dr."( even though we have Juris Doctorate)?

I know this is sort of off point, but just another reason I can't stand Biden or his "Doctor" wife.

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Feb 2, 2015 at 9:16 am

I'll have more to say later after a meeting (oh boy), but about docs: when my brother opened a phlebotomy practice and referred to himself as a 'vein doctor' I told him that was redundant (it's funnier when you've endured lawyer jokes for many years).

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore,
on Feb 2, 2015 at 10:10 am

I have no objection to referring to any individual who has earned a Ph.D. as Dr.
Also, an individual who has earned a Ph.D. can command a larger salary.

I'm not concerned that you may be considering referring to yourself as American JD.

if it works for you...go for it...

i rest my case

Posted by Ed, a resident of Pleasanton Meadows,
on Feb 2, 2015 at 11:15 am

My wife is from the Philippines and grew up on a farm in the province with no running water or electicity. At 18 she took a job out of the country to send money back to her parents so her younger siblings could go to college. She put her own college education on hold to do this. Her parents were not financially able to help so she took on the task knowing that without her support her siblings would likely be stuck on the farm with no future.
That was several years ago and now her siblings are teachers, one is an RN, another is in security management. The ones that were helped by my wife are now bringing up the next generation in the same manner.

My point is that without financial aid, a lot of good people can't go to college. If financial aid is handled the right way it can really benefit all who need it, and in turn our community and country.

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