Obama’s Plan to Boost Community Colleges and Free Online Education

Obama's Plan for Community Colleges and Free Online EducationGuided by the philosophy that a better-educated population will lead to better job opportunities and long-term economic recovery, President Obama recently unveiled a proposed education package that focuses on community colleges, with a sizable chunk devoted to free access to online education.

The plan calls for $12 billion in funds to be distributed to the country’s community colleges over the next 10 years, in an effort to achieve the president’s goal of an additional 5 million people earning degrees and certificates from community colleges over the decade. Obama’s proposal, the biggest federal commitment to community colleges in at least 40 years, breaks down as:

  • The bulk of the funds — $9 billion — would go to competitive grants focusing on job training, expanded course offerings that align with job needs, improving remedial and adult education, and improving community college graduation rates. Obama stressed this last goal in particular, given that only about half of the 6 million students who enroll in community colleges stay to completion.
  • $2.5 billion would go towards the construction and renovation of community college buildings and facilities.
  • The remaining $500 million would go towards creating an “online, open-source clearinghouse of courses” that would be available free to anyone with Internet access. The theory is that schools could add more classes without having to add more classrooms. Although this portion of the plan has the smallest allocation of funds, it would be a major boost to online education as a whole and in particular to advocates of open-source learning and e-textbooks.

In an attempt to ease fears of rising governmental spending, Obama stated that money for the the plan would come from private student loan companies and from ceasing subsidies to banks.

As the current economic downturn has inspired more and more unemployed workers to enroll in two-year schools, the timing for the president’s plan seems ideal. However, even its supporters claim that it’s not a cure-all for community colleges, with more attention needing to be paid to improving faculty, directing two-year college graduates towards a bachelor’s degree, and addressing state and local control over school budgets. Additionally, some balk at the thought of the federal government having any involvement in the development of school curricula.

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