President Barack Obama’s plan to have the federal government pay for the first two years of community college could open doors for thousands of students, particularly first-generation Salt Lake Community College students.
SLCC students and faculty were invited to an open forum at South City Campus to exchange ideas and tactics about how to improve the community college. One of the topics SLCC President Deneece Huftalin discussed on Feb. 4 was Obama’s proposal on the community college student-funding plan.
“Any plan that helps students see that coming to a community college and… moving on into the world of work is a(n)… option for them… including this plan is a great thing because it helps [our] students,” says Huftalin.
“[I want to make sure] that community college is accessible for everybody,” says Obama. “What I would like to do is to see the first two years of community college free for anybody who is willing to work for it.”
Obama framed it as an economic advantage, considering it vital to national, as well as global competitiveness. Greatly affecting SLCC, Huftalin feels this plan would give people an opportunity to attend school who believed it was out of their reach.
“A lot of our students who are first-generation students don’t know that college can be in their future,” says Huftalin. “[When these students hear] that somebody else is going to pay for [their schooling]… [it] opens up a door that has never been opened.”
While many positive aspects could come from this plan, Huftalin and students express certain doubts.
Huftalin says she believes the money supporting students’ two years of community college needs to be watched carefully. She also explained that students benefiting from such a program would need “the support, the placement, the advising, and the classes they need to actually stay on track and move forward to earn a degree.”
“U.S. community colleges have the responsibility to have the infrastructure available so students can attend for free,” says Huftalin. One of her concerns is that students will drop out of school and not do anything with the education they receive. However, President Huftalin believes that SLCC has the support systems to curb this potential problem.
SLCC student Jake Jones is also concerned about the plan’s effects on SLCC. He believes it could dilute the quality of college.
“If you have to work and pay for something, you tend to appreciate it more and work harder to succeed,” says Jones.
SLCC student Sage Service, completing her last semester studying social work, has five children. She feels Obama’s proposal could positively affect her children, but could negatively impact the federal Pell Grant program as well.
“[I] feel [that] it could attract many people to community college [who] have never considered it as an option. That in turn would impact four-year universities.” says Service. “The universities are going to really need to step up their programs… It might actually create a better system and they might have to lower some prices or find more ways to make up the differences,” says Service.