4Cs President Cox reacts to Obama's fee-free community college plan

Toward a more affordable community college

Former town manager and a CPA views funding as "problematic"

Hopeful that Governor Baker will continue to support the increased funding requested enabling tuition and fees to be frozen

By John Cox

President Obama’s decision to outline America’s Promise Proposal in Tennessee is reflective of that state’s commitment to students through the Tennessee Promise, a scholarship and mentoring program that provides guidance and funds to cover remaining tuition and fees not covered by other grants and scholarships. The President has outlined a proposal to create tuition and fee-free community college

While the details remain forthcoming, the proposal indicates the Federal Government will pay 75% of the first two years of community college with states matching the remaining 25% of the tuition and fees.

Students who attend at least half-time, maintain a 2.5 GPA, and make steady progress toward completion will have their tuition and fees eliminated. The community colleges must ensure that academic programs transfer to local public four-year institutions or are occupational training programs Clearly, America’s Promise Proposal would be a major boost for student access and affordability to higher education. It will help lower the total cost of higher education to students through federal and state funding. As a matter of policy, such a program supports community college education as a public service and recognizes the return on the federal and state investment through an educated citizenry and

As a former town manager and a CPA, the realities of public finance make funding such a program problematic. The federal government would need to find a source of funding to pay for such an initiative. Perhaps the billions of surplus dollars generated from student loans could be earmarked for this program? In addition, this initiative does become an unfunded mandate on the states. The Commonwealth would have to come up with 25% of the cost to receive the federal funding.

As President of Cape Cod Community College, I am grateful President Obama has announced this initiative. We have many, many students who could benefit, and our community would gain from a more skilled workforce. Realizing the political climate in Washington, and the need to build consensus and even compromise, this proposal launches a discussion that enables the President and Congress to re-examine our nation’s commitment to higher education. Clearly by modifying the eligibility on Pell Grants and Pay-As-You Earn Loans with lifetime caps, there are other reasonable means to increase our students’ access and affordability with a more modest impact on the federal budget.

Within Massachusetts, community colleges are in the third year of the new performance funding model.

The collective 15 community colleges are hopeful that Governor Baker will continue to support the increased funding requested enabling tuition and fees to be frozen.

I am hopeful that through this renewed discussion about community colleges, where upwards to half of all Massachusetts college students attend, we will see more public discussion and increased funding as our federal and Commonwealth leaders recognize the need to support our students, the future of our community, state, and nation.

John Cox, EdD, CPA, President
Cape Cod Community College

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