Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Community College is Different than Four-Year College

Posted By on Wed, Feb 5, 2014 at 5:30 AM

According to The Tennessean, Steve Cohen is pissed about Haslam's plan to use lottery money to make community college free for everyone who just graduated from high school.

As a state senator, Cohen sponsored the 2002 constitutional amendment that repealed the state’s ban on lotteries.

“Over the last 10 years, the Hope Scholarship program that I worked for 20 years as a state senator to create has been an unparalleled success,” Cohen said. “But the governor’s ‘promise’ actually cuts funding from high-achieving students beginning four-year degree programs.”

Haslam proposed waiving tuition and fees at all Tennessee community colleges and technology centers in his annual State of the State speech Monday night. The program, which the Republican governor called “Tennessee Promise,” would cost the state about $34 million a year, an expense that the governor said could be covered by moving about $300 million from the Lottery’s $400 million-plus reserve fund to a dedicated endowment.

I'm with Cohen here. This is a bad idea. In fact, it's an out of date idea. Even as recently as my day, junior colleges, as they were called then, were primarily seen as stepping stones to four-year schools. But the change in name reflects a change in approach. Sure, yes, young people who might not be quite prepared for the challenges of a four-year school do still go to community colleges. But so do working people who are looking to brush up on some skills and so do people who need an associate's degree for their job but aren't yet, or may never be, intending to go on to get a bachelor's, as well as people who are trying to make a bachelor's degree as inexpensive as possible and so spend two years closer to home. Community colleges aren't the minor leagues for "real" college. They're their own things, with their own missions.

If they were just a stepping stone to four-year colleges, then, sure, maybe encouraging all non-rich Tennesseans (and let's be honest that that's what this does) to spend two years at community college first makes sense. But, since that's not what community colleges are, then why would we make them the first option of all kids for whom money is an obstacle to higher education?

It just feels like a nod back to the days when community college was seen as some kind of extension of high school or something the poors had to settle for. Community colleges shouldn't be most Tennessee kids' consolation prize from the Governor.

People whose needs are best served by going to community college should go to community college. People whose needs are best served by going to a four-year college should go to a four-year college. If the Governor believes in making college more affordable to young people, then he should give every 18 year old in the state two years of tuition and fee-free schooling at whatever state school best fits their goals.

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