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Free Community College? 'St. Louis On The Air' Listeners Weigh In

After President Barack Obama announced a plan last week for two years of free tuition at community colleges, "St. Louis on the Air" asked its listeners to weigh in on the proposal.

America's College Promise would let students attend community college for two years without tuition costs. In return, the student must maintain a 2.5 grade point average and the school must work to increase its number of graduates and strengthen its programs. If all 50 states participate in the plan, the White House estimates that it could benefit 9 million students. It's also expected to cost the federal government about $60 billion over 10 years; states that join the program would be responsible for one-fourth of the cost.

Following are some of the responses we received. They have been edited for length and clarity:

Dan M.: "I don't support this. It would be great to think that this would benefit those that had their community college tuition paid, but giving people a handout doesn't work. Also, what would we do if these graduates couldn't get a job in their career field? Provide some additional subsidy? I believe in education, and part of that education is to earn your way into whatever you want."

Carol W.: "I do support such a plan. I think the minimum grade point average should be raised a bit to at least 3.0. If you are serious about a free education, you should be serious about studying and doing your best."

Larry N.: "I think the president's proposal is excellent. I'd use as comparison the post-WWII support for education of veterans. My father used that to fund his Washington University bachelor of science electrical engineering studies. He went on to have six children, and all of us graduated from college."

Susan F.: "This will only further balloon the number of people with useless degrees and further squander our human resources. Genuine educational experiences are intense and expensive — on the part of everyone involved."

Ann T.: "I definitely support this concept, but wonder how it will be financed. With the cost of college continuing to increase, even a two-year program is out of the reach of many. I think the two-year coursework available under such a program should be limited to areas in which jobs are being created or are likely to be created in the near-term."

Linda G.: "I am against federal monies being used for free education at the college level. The taxpayers cannot afford this, and the federal government has a dismal record of improving education. A lot of the effect of college success is that the student has to figure out how to balance studies and paying for school — a benefit lacking in today's emphasis on borrowing it an being saddled with huge debts."

Jeannine H.: "Education is the key. Many students still come out of high school without the tools needed to find a living wage. I have to agree that free tuition with a 2.5 grade point average is a good idea, but it will not pass with the current Congress."

Jack T.: "This is just another handout that the country cannot afford, and a trivially small and unnecessary one at that. Very few potential students do not attend junior college because they do not have or cannot borrow the money. The college expense and debt problems are at four-year schools. Finally, these are state and local programs, not federal ones. It will be a bureaucratic nightmare going forward to determine and control expenses and to decide who pays what."

Barbara Ann B.: "Having taught in elementary school, in high school and at the university (the latter for over 35 years), I am fully in support of the president's proposal. The community colleges are a universal opening to further learning. It might begin a real turn-around of the dumbing-down trend we have been experiencing in our educational institutions, workplaces and communities."

Jennifer L.: "A member of the House of Representatives once told me that they were no longer going to approve legislation that could not be funded. This is a nice idea, but one without funding. How are we going to pay for it? Where does it rank among other nice ideas? The first two years of community college play the role catching up what students should have learned in high school. For those going to community college, I see it as admission of that failure of our schools and education system."

Susan G.: "Like so many good ideas in Washington, i.e. banking reform and the Affordable Care Act, it is impossible to believe that this time it will really be managed and implemented properly and completely. No matter how good the initial idea, purely political solutions work out for no one. While I agree that it is a great idea, I just don't have any confidence that the program will be designed properly, supervised competently and funded realistically."

Trish M.: "The education system needs a revamping first before free tuition is given out. If someone could get an associate degree for something worthwhile, or possibly attend a trade school, then I'm possibly for it. Students who flunk out or fail to finish should either have to work off the tuition or pay it back. Trade school should be included."

Patricia M.: "Yes, I support free tuition at community colleges, but we need to take Germany's lead and make all college education free. To have our students graduate but saddled by enormous debt is a disgrace to us all."

Brenda R.: "There is a program in place for students who want to attend community college: It's called the A+ Program. If a high school senior wants to go to community college and does not attain that perk, then he or she needs to pay the minimal tuition. Those who want an education will find a way. A free ride is not the answer."

Wayne B.: "Publicly funded community college is a great idea! The majority of 21st century jobs require a workforce educated beyond the secondary level, therefore the citizens of the U.S.  are going to need to embrace grades 13 and 14 as a résumé-necessary minimum. Perhaps we should also embrace an expanded vocational/technical educational experience."

Irv S.: "Education is the key to restoring the middle class, which can be the engine to drive our economy toward prosperity. Education can also lead to reduction of crime. Education can help the poor to move up the economic ladder. Of course, there will always be some who simply can't or won't prosper, but education is the force that can reduce that number."

Ruth Ann C.: "I think that some kind of means testing makes sense. I know parents whose children attended junior college when they could have easily afforded (although not been accepted by) Harvard. Tax money should not pay tuition for those for whom the cost is no burden at all. But I would be delighted to see less fortunate students have the opportunity at taxpayer expense."

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“St. Louis on the Air” discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.

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