$12B Community College Program: Closing the Gap or Shifting the Gap?

Recently, there’s been a lot of talk about using education as a tool to generate jobs—and a way to narrow the gap between the rich and poor.  President Obama has encouraged every American to pursue at least one year of education beyond high school—and in July USA Today outlined the president’s 12 billion dollar proposal for funding community colleges.

For over seven years,  I taught at an at-risk high school in Boulder, Colo. that required every graduating senior to gain acceptance to a post-secondary institution before they could receive their high school diploma.  I proudly watched many of my students, who once believe that graduating high school was impossible, move on to success at community colleges, technical schools and more traditional four year institutions.

So, as a former high school teacher, administrator, and champion of higher education for those who didn’t see it as part of their future, I was initially overwhelmed with joy at the announcements and directives.  Increasing funding for community colleges?  Love it.  Linking Pell Grants to inflation?  Genius and long overdue.

To fund these new initiatives, however, Congress is considering a bill that would kill subsidies for private loans and instead drastically increase the federal direct loan program.

I’m a Direct Loan kid, so I have no qualms about this change—and I’m not particularly political enough to argue for or against another increase in governmental power, if that’s even what the change would cause.

Hey up there, look at me, I cant afford to finish my masters thesis!

"Hey up there, look at me, I can't afford to finish my master's thesis!"

I am, however, concerned about the middle class, the working middle class which makes too much money for Pell Grant eligibility but too little to pay for their kid’s college education outright.  I’m concerned about the graduate student who wishes to promote himself beyond the four year degree that his Stafford Loan funded.

If the elimination of private student loans significantly limits access to financial aid for middle class students and working graduate students who can academically handle more elite (and thereby more expensive) colleges and universities, then I cannot see the long term benefit of the change.

If a new direct loan program cannot successfully supplant the private loan industry, will the gap between rich and poor actually close—or will it shift?

Yes, those at the bottom of the economic ladder will be more educated, and most of those in the middle may be able to afford their bachelor’s degrees, —but there’s a distinct possibility only the most wealthy will be able to afford their doctorates at Ivy League universities.

And that, my friends, reeks of that little guy on the $10 bill. 😉