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We are excited for President Obama’s announcement proposing to make community college free for 2 years. This will create amazing opportunities for millions of Americans who are now struggling to afford college or are dissuaded from applying because of high costs. The benefits of the current plan are three-fold:

First, this will provide students with more financial opportunities at the end of their program as their new degrees will open up new employment opportunities.

Second, it will, as education does, give students a more rounded view of the world, gained by interacting with different ideas and people.

Third, it will serve as an equalizing force in American society. By making community colleges tuition-free, the plan encourages students coming from higher socioeconomic backgrounds to apply for community college. These students more often apply to four year colleges directly, rather than attending community college for their first two years. The plan encourages such students to study alongside students from the lower classes, as these students more often find four year institutions to be prohibitively expensive. More socioeconomically integrated community colleges will have manifold benefits, including a drive for a better quality of community colleges as well integrating the US people as a whole.

A question that arose for us, however, is why stop at two years? Why not make full bachelor’s degrees tuition-free country-wide? Education should be a right, not a privilege, and it should be in the government’s interest to have an educated workforce.

An obvious answer is cost. The President’s current proposal is expected to cost $60 billion in the next ten years. To expand the plan to four-year institutions would be very expensive indeed. A thing to consider, as a more low-cost way to further expand community college programs, is to take some of them online.

Online programs can be run for much lower costs and with easier scalability than traditional brick and mortar programs. Server costs for a thousand and ten-thousand students are not significantly different, and the development of new courses, the most demanding aspects of an instructor’s job, can be made significantly cheaper when one course serves a much larger number of students. University of the People’s methodology, of dividing students into small online classes, has been demonstrated to work, allowing for this scalability while still maintaining a sense of classroom community and cohesion among students. 95% of UoPeople students would recommend our method of learning to their friends.

This blog was written by Sarah W., a UoPeople Volunteer.