Community College “Giveaway That Benefits Students” – How Awful!

Isaiah J. Poole

Even today, it can still be stunning sometimes how unadorned conservatives can be in their contempt for ordinary people and their struggles.

Take Ed Morrissey at Hot Air, who complains that President Obama’s proposal for free community college is “merely a construct to Show Obama Cares About You, while at the same time gives the media another Republicans Are Just Flint-Hearted Meanies narrative to push” – by which he must mean this:

The latest entitlement proposal comes off the long and hoary list of progressive hobby horses, a giveaway that benefits students and even more the teachers needed to fill the sudden demand the erasure of pricing signals will create.

“A giveaway that benefits students”? Horrors! And “even more the teachers”! OMG!

At the Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal, the analysis is even more hot air. “The proposal will serve as little more than a federal handout to the community college system,” Heritage warns as it trots out a list of horribles, such as the specter that community colleges will raise tuition and fees to soak up the available federal dollars and that high schools would have “even less pressure … to produce graduates who are prepared for college-level work.”

The vacuity of these arguments is actually a sign that President Obama’s proposal is a hit to the conservative solar plexus. If you believe an educated workforce is the key to economic growth, global competitiveness and a key remedy for increasing worker wages, rebuilding the middle class and addressing racial and class inequities, opening wide the doors of community colleges should be a bipartisan issue.

In fact, in some quarters, it is.

What Obama wants to see happen nationwide is already beginning to happen in Tennessee under Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.

Inside Higher Ed in August did a profile on the birth of the state’s tuition-free college plan, the Tennessee Promise, and what converted Haslam from a critic to an ardent supporter of the idea.

It was a coalition of local officials and business leaders who got the concept started, using private funds. As Haslam warmed to the idea, he worked with the state legislature and with other stakeholders to ensure a stable base of funding.

He backs the idea, he said, because it puts the government in the role of helping the private sector create and fill jobs.

We are not coming anywhere close to having the trained level of workforce that we need here,” Haslam told Inside Higher Ed, “either in quantity or quality of workers.” And he said he believes the availability of tuition-free community college will “change, I hope, the aspirational level of a lot of high school students” who would otherwise view any level of college education as out of reach.

Yes, this is a proposal that “benefits students” – and it is an investment in people that will yield returns that benefit the entire country.

Perhaps what the right fears most is the fact that a serious conversation about the benefits of a tuition-free community college system will lead to a larger conversation about restoring and expanding the tuition-free four-year public college options that used to be available.

In fact, strike “perhaps”: “The administration’s proposal is another step toward the White House’s goal of a ‘cradle-to-career’ education system, starting with free preschool and now free community college,” Heritage warns.

Eliminating the barriers to opportunity: Conservatives love to talk about it, but can’t stand the reality of making it happen.