Obama’s Community College Proposal May Appeal To Prospective Students


Jasmine Walker is already thinking about how she’s going to pay for college. She knows she’ll have to earn scholarships to afford a traditional university.

As a senior at Eastside High School in Gainesville, Walker, 17, said she’s hoping to go to a four-year school like the University of Central Florida immediately following graduation.

But Walker is tempted to alter her plans after President Obama’s proposal of free tuition for two years at a community college.

On Monday, President Obama spoke to a group of high school students and parents in Des Moines, Iowa, to gather support for his plan to provide two free years of community college.

He said students who complete two years of post-secondary education could earn at least $10,000 more per year than people with just a high school diploma.

That statistic sheds light on what an associate degree can do, said Quinten Eyman, coordinator of recruitment at Santa Fe College.

Eyman said money is the bottom line when it comes to changing an existing system, but he is pleased the president is highlighting a vital part of the U.S. education system.

At Santa Fe, Eyman works directly with employers to provide career pathways and training, so students see the financial benefit.

Eyman said Santa Fe could maintain its degree of excellence even with free tuition. In March, Santa Fe was named the top community college in the nation by The Aspen Institute.

On a smaller campus, student life and classroom attention is more personal, he said.

“We should ask high school students, ‘Where do you fit?’” Eyman said.

Cynthia Markoch, a guidance counselor at Eastside, said college isn’t a one-formula-fits-all approach and students should consider all options when applying to schools.

She thinks Obama’s plan is great because many people who can’t afford to go to college right away would benefit.

“It’s not a linear path, because lives are not linear,” she said.

Not every student is ready for a four-year experience, she said. She approaches the college application process by engaging individual students and finding out what would be most practical solution for them.

While the benefits may appear ideal, not all educators agree with Obama’s approach.

Craig Wood, an education professor at the University of Florida, said the president’s plan is aspirational, but financially unrealistic. A plan targeted at specific career paths, such as healthcare and computer science, may be more beneficial.

Those areas have a clear return on investment in today’s economy, he said, whose research focuses on American education policy.

“You cannot promise all things to all people,” Wood said.

About Ariella Phillips

Ariella is a reporter for WUFT News and can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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