In 2012, 71 percent of all students (about 1.3 million undergraduates) graduating from four-year colleges had student loan debt, according to The Project on Student Debt at the Institute for College Access and Success.
With so many students racking up so much debt, what would happen if there was an option to make two years of college essentially free?
At Seton Hall, not much, according to Dr. Alyssa McCloud, vice president of enrollment management.
The “America’s College Plan” is President Barack Obama’s proposal to make community college available at no cost to eligible students. The plan was announced in January and outlines a free first two years at community college with stipulations of capped household income and on how successful and dedicated the students must be, including a minimum GPA and a timely graduation date.
“Whoever you are, this plan is your chance to graduate, ready for the new economy, without a load of debt,” Mr. Obama said in his State of the Union speech on Jan. 20.
While acknowledging the merit of the potential plan, Dr. McCloud wrote in an email: “I do not foresee this plan having a significant impact on our enrollment of incoming freshman. It may, however, give us the opportunity to recruit additional transfer students from local community colleges.”
On average, a full-time undergraduate resident student at Seton Hall pays $2,000 for a meal plan, $4,375 for an on-campus residence hall, a $650 mobile computing fee, a $403 university fee and $17,410 in tuition, according to the Seton Hall website. Altogether, that is just shy of $25,000 per semester.
If this plan is implemented, those who go to community college would save about $100,000 if they attended Seton Hall for only their final two years of college. However, the maximum cost already is eased by the University’s $75 million investment in student financial aid.
“Currently about 97 percent of (Seton Hall’s) undergraduate students receive financial aid and 95 percent of these students receive a grant or scholarship directly from Seton Hall,” Dr. McCloud said.
Seton Hall students reacted to the President’s plans with some reservations.
Geoffrey Thomulka, a sophomore, said, “I believe the emphasis should be made on increasing financial aid to college students attending whatever college they want.”
Thomulka, a mathematical finance and economics major from Point Pleasant, N.J., plans to attend Seton Hall for the entirety of his bachelor’s degree.
He added that “it is not realistic to expect kids to start attending community colleges when there is a large societal emphasis on attending prestigious four-year institutions.”
Of the President’s community college plan, he said: “I really think (the president) has the right intentions, however as I understand it, the program will be funded by tax increases and borrowing,” a route Thomulka believes the government should not take for this plan.
According to Mr. Obama’s 2016 budget proposal, funding would come from a mix of increased specialized taxes and a limit on corporate tax deductions. Education would receive a five percent funding increase, or $3.6 billion, up from $67.1 billion for 2015, according to U.S. News. A spokesperson from the White House said it would cost around $60 billion over 10 years and affect as many as 9 million students who would each save an average of $3,800 per year.
While two years of free college may sound great, one Seton Hall student uses his own experience to highlight the way this method of saving is already somewhat possible.
“Being that I made the determination to go to a community college for many reasons, I feel that if it was reduced in price to free, it would have just been an added benefit,” said James Farney, a junior marketing major, writing in an email.
”I made the personal choice to stay close to home for the first two years and it just so happened that the savings allowed me to go to a four year school.”
The Middletown, N.J. native got his twoyear associate’s degree in business administration from Brookdale Community College in Monmouth County after graduating high school. Farney said he had an outstanding experience at Brookdale, especially knowing that he was getting a valuable education in and out of the classroom and could be happy with his investment and financial choice.
On Mr. Obama’s plan, he said: “I feel that it is a positive incentive for students who may not want to commit to a four year school to be able to confide in a community college…Reducing the cost to virtually free, I feel that many others will be able to take a chance and enjoy the community college aspect of education like I have.”
Emily Balan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.