One of the most sweeping proposals in President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address this year was his call to make community college free for millions of students.
The plan—in which the president proposed having the federal government cover 75% of the cost of tuition and states pay the rest—was aimed at increasing access to college in an era when most good jobs require some postsecondary education and many employers say they struggle to find workers with the skills they need. But at an estimated cost of $60 billion over 10 years, the proposal was controversial and given no chance of advancing in a Republican-controlled Congress.
Some argue that free community college would be a huge and costly entitlement with little return on investment. At about $3,300 a year for full-time study, community-college tuition is already very low, these critics say, so it doesn’t make sense to give subsidies to students for whom affordability isn’t an obstacle.