Over the past decade, the college degree has become the new minimum requirement for employers. Jobs that have never required a B.A. in the past have changed their standards, and even though the graduates may never use the knowledge they gained in their American history class for their entry level receptionist position, the graduates hired are seen as more ambitious, capable, and career oriented than those who do not graduate.
According to the New York Times, “the unemployment rate for workers with no more than a high school diploma is more than twice that for workers with a bachelor’s degree.” In just twenty years, the United States has dropped from first to twelfth in world rankings for four-year degree graduation. College graduation rates are still rising, but not as fast as other countries, and at a high cost for students.
The White House claims that student loan debt has now surpassed that of credit card debt, with graduates owing an average of at least $26,000 upon graduation as of 2010. The affordability of college, or lack thereof, has created what the White House is calling a “college attainment gap.” This refers to the gap between the wealthiest families being able to send their children to college, thus getting a better education and a better job, while students from lower class families are often unable to attend due to the high costs and lack of financial aid available.
President Obama recently discussed his support for free higher education as a means to increase graduation rates across the country. He outlined his plan to offer two free years of community college in every state, mimicking the actions of both Tennessee and Illinois. For a student to attend tuition free, they must be at least part time, maintain a GPA of 2.5 or higher, and be making progress towards the completion of a degree or towards transferring to a four-year institution.
Also outlined in the proposal was what Andrew Kelly, the director of the center on Higher Education Reform at the American Enterprise Institute called “a federal reform agenda for community colleges.” If the government was to follow through with the proposal, they would cover 75 percent of the cost and would require more student advising, support services, and a more transitional curriculum for prerequisite courses from that of high school.
Funding to cover the first two years of community college would certainly raise graduation rates. An opportunity for students to graduate without the amount of debt that students have now would serve as an incentive for students to stick with the higher education system. Education Secretary Arne Duncan expressed in a statement that, “As a nation, we have to make college more accessible and affordable and ensure that all students graduate with a quality education of real value.” Free education for the first two years will also allow for students to transfer to institutions they may not have been able to afford for four years, expanding their education even further.
With the implementation of this proposal, the President hopes to make college more attainable for American families as well as for the nation to rise back to number one in the world for four-year degree attainment, allowing for graduates to compete with growing international competition in the job market.