Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Politics of Remediation and Free Community College

As part of his "State of the Union" address, President Obama proposed a program that would grant students the equivalent of  two years of full-time tuition at community colleges. Obama pointed to a Tennessee program as a model for this national initiative, In a time where there's tremendous focus on the growing cost of college, this grand idea has drawn significant positive attention, and some equally vehement backlash.  The debate over the "America's Promise" plan for free community college for students who maintain a 2.5 GPA and have family adjusted gross incomes of less than $200,000 reveals some of the stratification and politics of access and representation that Mary Soliday explored in her 2002 The Politics of Remediation: Institutional and Student Needs in Higher Education.

Part of the issue that some have is that Obama has chosen not to expand the Pell Grant, which can be used for tuition at 4-year colleges as well as community colleges. Many of those advocating expansion of the Pell instead of the President's plan have an interest in maintaining enrollment in 4-year universities, which have felt the pinch of budget cuts and the backlash against rising tuition rates caused by the withdrawal of government support for higher education. These articles tend to highlight research (or sometimes "research") that proves that 4-year colleges have better outcomes:
Do I think that community colleges are the answer? I'm not sure. Pell Grants should be expanded, but there are many families that identify as "middle class" that the Pell Grants don't help. Those families could benefit from this plan. But both expanding the Pell and enacting America's Promise require a level of societal commitment to education and to funding that education through government programs that I don't think we have the will to do, despite all of our claims about the value of an education.

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