President Obama gives it the good ol’ college try

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The White House announced a proposal on Jan. 9, that President Barack Obama said would make community college "free for everybody who's is willing to work for it." (Carolyn Kaster | AP)

The White House announced a proposal on Jan. 9, that President Barack Obama said would make community college “free for everybody who’s is willing to work for it.” (Carolyn Kaster | AP)

President Barack Obama recently unveiled a long overdue plan to provide a free college education to qualified students. The plan, entitled America’s College Promise, pledges to cover tuition costs for those who have a C plus average, attend school at least part time and are working towards credit transferable to a four-year college. The plan also aims to cover tuition costs for qualified occupational training programs.

“Put simply, what I’d like to do is see the first two years of community college free for everybody who’s willing to work for it,” Obama said.

The president announced his plan Jan. 9 in Knoxville, Tennessee, but most college students would agree that America’s College Promise is long overdue. With the United States owing more in student loans than credit card debt, the current education system is inarguably failing most of            its students.

“Some students are lucky enough to have parents that can pay for their entire education, but most of us aren’t that fortunate. I chose DePaul partly because I was offered the most in scholarships and grants to go here, and I know I’m not alone in that,” Helen Gustafson, a DePaul sophomore said.

If the plan were passed, it would not make the United States the first country to provide free higher education. According to the Washington Post, many European countries, including Germany, Finland and Norway, cover the entire cost of tuition — even for foreign students. The money needs to come from somewhere, however, and the White House said the cost to put Obama’s plan into effect would cost $60 billion.

What exactly does America’s College Promise, assuming the plan even makes it past Congress, mean for future generations? While education equality is an admirable goal, the price tag for covering millions of students’ college expenses would be extensive to say the least. The White House estimated that the proposal, if passed, would assist about 9 million students with an average of $3,800 in savings per student.

Many naysayers will point to the hefty cost of Obama’s plan as proof that the proposal is unrealistic. Yet with multiple foreign countries with similar systems in place successfully providing free college, it is difficult to claim the plan as impossible.

“You don’t want a society to have those with money to have an education and those without to not, “ Catherine May, a professor in DePaul’s Political Science Department, said. “I haven’t investigated Obama’s plan much, but if it can remedy that and contribute to political stability I will approve.”

“The Economic Benefits of Closing Educational Achievement Gaps,” a November 2014 study by the Center for American Progress, analyzed the nation’s rising inequality and only further complements Obama’s plan. The study found that “black and Hispanic children, on average, have lower test scores than native-born white children in large part because they are more likely to be raised in poor, low-income families than are native-born white children.”

College degrees traditionally result in higher-paying jobs, and giving lower-income citizens equal opportunity to earn a diploma would likely shrink the wealth gap that exists in American society.

Some will argue that the Obama administration missed a chance to help strictly low-income students who need the help more. After all, why should the country finance higher education for students who can already afford it? But helping students across the board pay for their education does not hurt low-income students. It merely helps students of all backgrounds.

Somehow, a plan aiming to give all Americans equal opportunity to receive higher education has already been morphed by some into a negative concept. Isn’t equal opportunity, “for everybody who’s willing to work for it” the American Dream?

Regardless of the cost or the politics, paving the way for lower-income citizens to receive a higher education is an excellent proposal. If the Germans, Norwegians and Finns were able to make a free college education into a reality, it is a goal that America needs to strive for.