The Herald Bulletin

March 25, 2014

Editorial: Change in community college may help workforce


The Herald Bulletin

---- — One often hears of firefighters, policemen and those who have served in the military receiving free college courses. Most times, though, the offer has something to do with their service to their country or community.

An intriguing proposal is circulating through the world of community colleges: Make it tuition-free.

The idea, of course, is to get more youth to seek higher education and help the U.S. take control of the race for global work skills.

Though high school students will hear the word "free," it is far from it in the eyes of most taxpayers who will end up footing the bills. Many feel those expenses can't be justified as a proper use of public money. So legislators in Tennessee and Oregon are looking at the feasibility of free tuition for students regardless of their family income. Mississippi took a step by passing a bill in its House, but the proposal failed in the Senate.

The burden of student debt is a growing concern.

For example, Ball State University students are, on an average, faced with an annual cost of $20,760 before receiving financial aid. After receiving a financial aid package, that tuition dips to an average of $12,622. That's typically the amount students must invest.

About 70 percent of BSU grads leave college with an average debt of $25,692.

At Ivy Tech Community College, with campuses across the state including Anderson, the annual cost of college before financial aid is $16,185; after aid, it's $8,915. But 47 percent of the Ivy Tech grads have an average debt of $17,444.

Those debt amounts are not easy for recent graduates to wipe out.

It generally takes a BSU grad 10 years to work up to an annual salary of $51,754 and an Ivy Tech grad 10 years to earn $49,747 annually.

These rates of return are being pondered by state officials.

Indiana higher education officials and legislators should have open, public dialogue on the value — read that as rate of return — for tuition-free or reduced-cost community college.

The burden to taxpayers would be costly and, perhaps, felt strongest by Hoosiers without teenagers. But the idea of less expensive community college could mean Indiana will create a better educated workforce. And that, in the long run, gives back to all Hoosiers.

Low-cost community college education, coupled with an increased offering of college-level courses for high school kids, could be a winning combination.

In summary The idea of free community college is worth consideration in Indiana. Low-cost community college education, coupled with an increased offering of college-level courses for high school kids, could be a winning combination.