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No such thing as free college

Everybody agrees, education done properly is a game-changer. A person who earns a college degree will probably have a better job and bring home a bigger paycheck than someone whose classroom education ends at high school.

But President Obama’s plan for a free community college education for everyone is a flawed idea, and not just because it would cost the federal government an estimated $60 billion over 10 years and the states another $20 billion.

Access to community colleges isn’t a problem now. Tuition is low enough that most people can afford it. If not, there are a multitude of grants, scholarships and other financial aid options. If money is a barrier to community college, it’s for an extremely small percentage of people.

The bigger problem is that many people fail to make good use of this opportunity. Federal statistics show that just 20 percent of students who attend public community colleges finish a degree or certificate program. That’s success for just one of of every five people, even though they have had to shell out money from their own pocket or jump through hoops to obtain aid. Imagine how much worse those completion rates might be if we just gave away college to anyone who walked through the door.

Former Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon said in 2012 that one of the issues is poor preparation. About half of community college enrollees have to take at least one remedial, noncredit math course to get in.

We don’t think this is a federal issue. But if Obama is determined to put a community college plan forward, it needs to target a specific problem and improve graduation rates. This feel-good, blanket giveaway is a nonstarter.

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