For Students, There Are More Factors in College Decisions than Money

Earlier this month, the White House released a statement outlining “the America’s College Promise proposal to make two years of community college free for responsible students,”.

The free community college proposal, which would see “students earn the first half of a bachelor’s degree,” brings up an important question: will college students who would normally go straight into 4-year colleges start attending community college for their first two years if President Obama’s plan is put into action?

Even today, community college students appear to be in good shape when it comes to paying for school. Take the Institute for College Access & Success‘ report from June 2014.

“The vast majority (79%) of eligible community college students do not take out federal loans,” it states.

This shows that President Obama’s free community college proposal will make the financial attractiveness of such institutions even more appealing.

IVN contributor Kelly Petty spoke on the success of community college students who transferred to 4-year colleges in 2013. It seems that the odds of obtaining a bachelor’s degree after spending time at a community college can also be a draw for potential college students.

Current students at Oakland Community College shared their views of the plan with The Detroit News. Although there were concerns about funding the plan, among other things, many students expressed approval of President Obama’s free community college proposal.

But Kemper Lake, a student at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, said that he personally would not have gone the path of community college for the first two years of coursework no matter how low the tuition. This is because even if he had finished his general education requirements in community college, he said that “it would still take me three years to graduate.”

His degree (music education) is set up so that students must complete requirements in such a specific order that two years away from the program would have only lengthened his time spent in college.

Despite potentially costing him more money in terms of tuition, the time saved by going straight into a 4-year institution is something Mr. Lake appears to value.

Lessa Delphia, a Journalism senior at the University of South Carolina, said that making such a decision would also depend on the quality of the community college in question. As a possible example, Ms. Delphia pointed to Sara Oswald, who transferred to Harvard University from Midlands Technical College, a public two-year college in Columbia, South Carolina.

Perhaps this school’s quality is able to compete with 4-year institutions, making the community college route less risky.

But Alex Hickerson, a business student at the University of South Carolina, brings up another important consideration.

“Thinking about it now, I would probably do it since it would be free,” he said, “but back when I was in the high school senior or college freshman mindset, I definitely would not have.”

Mr. Hickerson focused on the reality that what many soon-to-be college freshman want in addition to a good education is the social life of a 4-year college or university that young high school and college students do not see community colleges having.

All three students shared the view that “a more educated society is always a good thing,” in the words of Mr. Lake.

The issues presented by these three are not criticisms of community colleges. They are simply realities that go into decisions incoming college freshman would need to make about whether or not to go to community college for the first two years if President Obama’s free community college proposal is implemented.

Simply put, it appears that money is not everything.

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