President Obama’s commitment to low and middle-income students was evident during his State of the Union address Tuesday night. His appeal to the nation included a bold plan to lower the cost of community college attendance to “zero”. This plan, first announced on January 8th, strives to make the first two years of community college free for students of any age who earn a “C+” average, attend school at least halftime, and are making “steady progress” toward degree completion. This program would be available at community colleges with academic programs designed to transfer to public four-year colleges and universities.
The President’s proposal comes at a time when state higher education funding is at its lowest levels in recent history. The enduring degradation of per pupil spending is evidenced by College Board’s 2014 Trends in College Pricing report. Such state spending policy is having the greatest effect on low and middle-income students who can least afford higher education fee and tuition increases. Since 1985 the inflated-adjusted sticker price of tuition and fees at public two-year community colleges has risen 250%. As such, President Obama’s plan stands in opposition of this ongoing and problematic trend in higher education.