The President wants to devote $1.365 billion in FY2016 to America’s College Promise, a new program that would make up to two years of tuition free for students enrolled at least half-time in a community college. According to the recently released U.S. Department of Education’s FY2016 budget, the cost of the program would increase as more students took advantage of it, to $60.3 billion over ten years. But that’s a modest investment that would make college more affordable for low- and middle-income families—particularly for women, who make up 56% of community college students and 66% of the low-wage workplace.
A college degree can provide a pathway out of low-paying jobs and into fields with higher pay and more opportunities for professional growth. That’s a no-brainer. Yet, the rising cost of tuition has meant that many students must either forgo college or rely on student loans, which can mean devoting high percentages of post-college earnings to loan repayment. This imposes a particular burden on women, who are paid less than men, even with a college degree. On average, women who borrow to attend community college take out $2,000 more in student loans than men at community colleges do.
The President’s new proposal lifts this burden by covering tuition at a community college for a training certificate, associate’s degree, or the first half of a bachelor’s degree for students that maintain at least a 2.5 GPA. And because both full- and part-time students would be eligible for the program, the proposal has the potential to make college affordable for students who work, as well as 4.8 million college students with parenting and other family obligations.
The ability to get a postsecondary education should not depend on your family’s wealth. Nor should it depend on your willingness to take on thousands of dollars in student debt. In a time where the size of your paycheck is directly tied to whether you have college degree, the increasing cost of college is a threat to the quality of our nation’s workforce and economy. America’s College Promise is an important step towards neutralizing that threat and making the dream of higher education a reality for all students and families.