More on President Obama’s Proposal to Provide “Free” Community College

Two recent posts to Diane Ravitch’s blog have provided links to responses to President Obama’s proposal to provide free community college.

The first item is “The Trojan Horse of ‘Free’ Community College,” an op-ed published at Truthout []. It is written by Adam Bessie, a faculty member at a California community college whose personal blog is called Automated Teaching Machine: The Writing of Human Educator Adam Bessie []

Bessie begins by providing some historical perspective, emphasizing that for most of their history California’s community colleges provided free education to whoever wished to enroll and for a long time provided a model for the community-college systems in other states. The idea was that the open opportunity to enroll at a community college was a major mechanism for insuring an educated workforce, broadly based economic opportunity, and prosperous, dynamic communities.

Bessie writes: “I worry that ‘free’ college may be a Trojan horse for implementing a Race to the Top (RTTT) for higher education, which has been a disastrous policy for K-12 education. RTTT, which is essentially No Child Left Behind rebranded, uses the force of the federal government to institute a regime of standardized testing and so-called “competition,” which has narrowed the curriculum (especially in poor schools, which many of my students come from), emphasizing only reading and math, and tossing aside the arts, sciences and other areas which can’t be tested. Beyond this, RTTT has wrested control of classrooms out of the hands of educators and communities, and placed them into the hands of distant technocrats in the federal government and corporate America.

“’Free’ college might mean that community colleges would cede local, community control to the federal government; thus, the policies of Washington and corporate America would drive the curriculum, rather than the needs of the community. And based on what we’ve seen with RTTT, it’s likely that community colleges again would become junior colleges-–designed primarily as trade schools, or for transfer, with a focus on getting students in and out the door as fast as possible, using standardized, impersonal methods more focused on efficiency than education.”

The second item is a paper published by the Wisconsin HOPE Lab, “Frequently Asked Questions About President Obama’s Free Community College Proposal” []. The author is Sara Goldrick-Rab, Founding Director, Wisconsin HOPE Lab and Professor of Educational Policy Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Ravitch provides this overview of the paper: Goldrick-Rab “explains the likely effects of President Obama’s plan for tuition-free community college. She explains how the plan would affect students who receive Pell grants, how it is likely to affect community colleges, how the plan differs from the Tennessee program, and other frequently asked questions. She seeks to allay the fears of critics. She does not, however, address the question of whether the plan is an effort to impose Race to the Top metrics on this sector.”


3 thoughts on “More on President Obama’s Proposal to Provide “Free” Community College

  1. I can’t see anything but baseless paranoia in the fear that free community college tuition would bring standardized testing to colleges. Since it’s a plan to make all community colleges free, it wouldn’t be contingent upon federal testing standards (which don’t exist). Since the plan is funded with help from the states, it would be much harder to get testing imposed. The real fear we should have is that Republicans will refuse to do anything that Obama wants, especially anything that helps poor students. Buying into conspiracy theories only aids the right-wing in its crusade to de-fund higher education.

    • If this proposal goes nowhere, which is much more likely than it will be adopted in any form, it will not be because of skepticism from the Left about how it might be administered.

      That said, if the program is federal, it will be administered by Arne Duncan’s Department of Education, which has shown an eagerness to adopt standardized assessments that has made it indistinguishable from the lobbies of technocrats, corporatizers, and privatizers championing “reform” on the GOP side.

      As I indicated in a previous post, I certainly don’t wish to denigrate any effort to provide free higher education, or even to reduce costs. But to ignore what this Department of Education would likely do with such a program would serve no purpose except to insure that they would do more of the same with this program.

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