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Free Tuition At Community College Should Just Be The Start

Memo Pad Politics

Free Tuition At Community College Should Just Be The Start


It’s good that many Republicans have joined Democrats in declaring the growth of economic inequality a problem. And some are even looking to solutions beyond making the rich richer through tax cuts. As we’ve seen, rising stock prices do not necessarily lead to jobs — for Americans, that is.

The crumbling of the once-mighty American middle class has two unstoppable causes, globalization and automation, and one stoppable one, a poorly educated workforce. A high-school diploma no longer guarantees a decent income. That’s something we can fix.

President Obama’s proposal for a free community college education is a good start. Two-year colleges are the gateway to more job training or a four-year college degree.

Let’s dispense with defeatist talk that we can’t afford to educate our people. Obama’s plan is to pay for the schooling with higher taxes on America’s economic elite. It wouldn’t even bother with the upper middle class, just the super-rich.

Do we hate the super-rich? We do not. We can thank them as they contribute more to the country that made their fortunes possible.

Some less visionary Republican leaders have framed the proposal as an income redistribution plan. But the money would be redirected not from the rich to the non-rich but from the very rich to education. A more productive labor force makes the entire country more prosperous.

Not everyone gets this. There remains a view of education chiefly as an expense rather than an investment in human capital.

An example can be seen in the House Republicans’ recent bill calling for “dynamic scoring” of legislation. It would require the official bean counters to include the economic benefits of tax cuts in scoring the cost of legislation. That would make tax cuts easier to pass.

The idea of “dynamic scoring” is not without merit, but the House’s vision has eyes only for tax cuts. Spending on things like roads and bridges also produces economic benefits. So does improving the workforce. Universal education is what made America great in the 20th century.

Some Republicans, especially on the state level, seem more enlightened on the importance of education as an investment in the future. Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval has proposed a $1 billion tax increase to strengthen the state’s schools. Some fellow Republicans in the state Legislature think the conservative thing is to kill it and have vowed to do so.

In successful advanced economies, such as Germany’s, education is free right through med school. Here education has become a luxury item. It’s nuts that U.S. student debt has passed $1 trillion and that undergraduates who borrow for school now owe an average of $30,000. Nearly 20 percent are in default on their student loans.

True, many students arrive at community college without the math they should have learned in fifth grade. Why? Lousy public schools? Chaotic home life? Newly arrived with little English?

Never mind why. Set up a classroom and teach them the math again — and, if necessary, again. For education, America should be the land of second chances, third chances and fourth chances.

As for the ages of those in the classroom, forget about that. Young to elderly, all should be welcome. And the learning should be free or just about.

Online classes already provide cheap and convenient instruction in almost every discipline. Perhaps Internet-based courses can break open the cages in which elite institutions trap students in ludicrously expensive degree programs.

Meanwhile, fight any effort to direct student aid at poor people only. Education should be regarded not as welfare but as basic, like water. So open the spigots, and let it flow.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

President Barack Obama speaks at the Anschutz Sports Pavilion on the campus of the University of Kansas on Thursday Jan. 22, 2015 in Lawrence, KS. (John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/TNS)

Froma Harrop

Froma Harrop’s nationally syndicated column appears in over 150 newspapers. Media Matters ranks her column 20th nationally in total readership and 14th in large newspaper concentration. Harrop has been a guest on PBS, MSNBC, Fox News and the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and is a frequent voice on NPR and talk radio stations in every time zone as well.

A Loeb Award finalist for economic commentary in 2004 and again in 2011, Harrop was also a Scripps Howard Award finalist for commentary in 2010. She has been honored by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and the New England Associated Press News Executives Association has given her five awards.

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  1. Dominick Vila January 27, 2015

    Free community college tuition should be an integral part of a long term strategy to stop and reverse the growing inequality between the haves and the have not in America, but much more needs to be done to save the American middle class.
    The top economic priorities at this point in our history must be raising the minimum wage and investing in infrastructure. The positive effects of those two initiatives would provide immediate results that would help millions of Americans improve their standard of living, find a good paying job, ensure we can compete effectively against other industrialized nations, and further stimulate the economy by increasing the disposable income of those who spend every penny they make the moment they earn it.
    The GOP refusal to act on these issues during the last 6 years is an important contributor for the slow economic recovery, and for the misery and pain that millions of Americans endured as a result of the 2007 Great Recession. The time to change course and do what most Americans expect our elected officials to do is now.

    1. itsfun January 27, 2015

      How is the President’s proposal to tax the 529 college funds that middle class parents have been saving for their own children going to help them?

  2. janis mcdonald January 27, 2015

    Two things bother me here: What about the many, many students who graduate high school but still cannot read, do simple math or reason on a fundamental level? Are these the ones who will now be attending free community college to continue the travesty of pretending to educate everybody? And, of course, what about those who strapped themselves to those back-breaking college loans and still cannot find jobs that pay enough to even begin to pay them back? Aren’t THEY too big to fail? Oops!

    1. Gary Miles January 27, 2015

      Very good points Janis!

  3. Gary Miles January 27, 2015

    Although this idea is DOA in DC under the current Congress, it’s not exactly very smart thinking on Obama’s part. But it is typical that Liberal’s like him and many others think that the problem can be fixed by throwing more money at it. That don’t work folks! Every President going back to Carter have mentioned in some way or another “investing more on education” in their SOTU speeches. Yet, we still have an education problem, or do we?
    We really don’t have an education problem , we have a government involvement problem. Get THEM out of everyone’s business and watch how quickly the people fix the problems or…..we can continue down the same path as the Greeks.

  4. itsfun January 27, 2015

    “Free” college for everyone is suppose to help the middle class. Now Obama wants to tax the current college savings program. So the middle class families with two working parents that are working and saving for the education of their children will have their college savings taxed to pay for the children of families with two working parents,
    that didn’t save any money and instead bought new cars, huge TV’s, etc. The rich don’t need a government college savings plan. They have the money on hand to pay for college. So, who would this “new” tax help and who would it hurt?

    Another thing is what ever happened to paying your own way through college. Almost every one I knew did that.

  5. idamag January 27, 2015

    History proves an illiterate nation is a weak nation.


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