Christopher Dodd's Plan for Community Colleges

He wants to make them free -- if the state is willing to pay half of the tuiton for each student, the federal government will pick up the other half. That's the plan he's unveiling today.

One of the catches for the states is this:

States would qualify for federal matching money by keeping their appropriations for public community colleges level from the year before.

So, states cannot cut their spending on community college to make up the amount of money they need to pay the tuition.

It's an interesting idea, and I am totally on board with the idea that education must be accesible, particularly to low-income students.

Dodd's higher education plan deals with more than just this, and this is where I grow a little wary:

Besides offering free community college education and a modest bump in Pell grants for poor students, Dodd's plan focuses on broad goals such as "putting a spotlight on the skyrocketing cost of tuition" and "protecting students from unscrupulous lenders."

A Dodd administration would draw attention to high college tuitions by publishing an annual tuition inflation index and a list of colleges and universities whose fees exceed that amount, according the outline. It would end corporate subsidies for student loans and require banks to compete for student loan business though a federal auction system. Dodd promises to extend new protections to private student loan holders to "improve transparency, prevent unfair and deceptive private lending practices and eliminate conflicts of interest" but does say how he would do it.

Dodd also would raise Pell grants by $100 a year, in line with what Congress has already passed.

Raising Pell grant is a good idea. Reconsidering the way that lenders get involved with student loans is a good idea, too. But I'm not so convinced that the way to solve the problem of rising tuiton costs is to publish this sort of "annual tuition inflation index." I know that schools are raising their tuitions - and some by a great deal. But I don't think that the solution is this "spotlighting" of the prices of college.

Wouldn't it be more effective to highlight the cuts in spending that states have been making? When I was just starting grad school at the University of Missouri, the state cut very deeply into the budget. So the university raised tuition to make up some of the cost (of course, a great deal of a school's costs are not covered by student tuition, even at the pricey private school where I did my undergraduate work).

I've only seen the outline of this plan, so I don't know for sure what the intent of this inflation index and the list of colleges is. I also wonder if this would include private schools - many of them must raise their tuitions by more than the inflation. Like I said, some of this is interesting and good, and I know I should probably reserve judgement until I see the whole thing, but I'm still wary about this index. And I'm tired of politicians laying all of the blame on the schools for having to raise their tuitions.

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