By Joanna Armstrong
Silhouetted in front of the stripes of the American flag, President Barack Obama delivered his sixth State of the Union address on Tuesday to a joint session of Congress. The president unveiled his new tax plan supporting what he called “middle-class economics,” and among other things, providing two years of community college free to students.
“By the end of this decade, two in three job openings will require some higher education. Two in three,” said Obama. “And yet, we still live in a country where too many bright, striving Americans are priced out of the education they need. It’s not fair to them, and it’s not smart for our future.” Obama’s proposition called for $320 billion of increases over the next 10 years to pay for middle class tax credit expansions as well as his proposition for free community college.
Obama stressed that the plan would help Americans stay ahead of the learning curve and keep more people from student loan debt. “I want to spread that idea all across America, so that two years of college becomes as free and universal in America as high school is today,” said Obama. “Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well? Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort?”
But not everyone is on board with the president’s plan as he would like. “I have a number of concerns,” said Northeast President Dr. Brad Johnson. “Fundamentally, I have real reservations about the message we send when we tell students that something is free because there is a deeply ingrained instinct in our bones that says that things that we pay a lot for must be worth more,” he said. “The problem we already face at community colleges is that students often times do not commit as much energy and effort in their studies as they need to, and I don’t believe telling them it’s free helps us with that problem. I think it does the opposite.”
While he appreciated the importance Obama placed on community colleges, Johnson didn’t agree that his plan was practical. “Community colleges are seriously underfunded,” he said. “The president’s plan doesn’t help with that at all. All it does is change who’s paying the tuition bill.”
NTCC student Andrew Nowak had similar things to say. “It’s not free. Nothing is ever going to be free,” he said. “It has to be paid from somewhere. The question is where is he going to get the money.”
Johnson emphasized the programs Northeast had in place to ease the financial burden on students struggling to find the money for a college education. “We’ve said that the path to fixing things is to give people the opportunity to work for their own education through the work scholarship program that we’re building and putting in place. So our answer stands in contrast,” said Johnson. “We say give people meaningful work. Pay them a good wage so that they can actually afford to pay for college and then let them earn that.”
“Middle-class economics works,” said Obama in his State of the Union address, but in the case of his free tuition plan, Northeast’s President is skeptical. “I agree with the president on the problem,” said Johnson. “I’m not optimistic about the proposed solution.