LARGO – In his sixth State of the Union address on Jan. 20 President Barack Obama said 40 percent of college students choose community college, citing the statistic as one of the reasons he proposed a plan to make community college tuition free for students young and old nationwide. Students and families across Prince George’s […]
LARGO – In his sixth State of the Union address on Jan. 20 President Barack Obama said 40 percent of college students choose community college, citing the statistic as one of the reasons he proposed a plan to make community college tuition free for students young and old nationwide.
Students and families across Prince George’s County would benefit, said Dr. Charlene M. Dukes, president of Prince George’s Community College, which serves more than 40,000 students including 21,028 credit students.
“I think that it’s certainly right to have a K-14 focus and to ensure that all students who want to pursue an education have the opportunity to do so,” Dukes said. “Community colleges quite frankly are the institutions across the nation that offer the most affordable price for students to pursue their education, it only sounds reasonable that it should start within the community college sector.”
Dukes said Obama’s plan is feasible, but details, such as fees, need to be worked out before the plan can become reality.
“I think there are a couple of things that we need to think about. One is when we say tuition free, what does that mean? Because colleges also charge fees to support some of the services that we offer to students at no cost,” Dukes said. “So I think that we do have to look at how do we ensure that with this free tuition proposal that students will retain access to all that we offer both in and out of the classroom?”
Dukes said officials need to examine and consider how free tuition will impact the current support that PGCC receives from the state of Maryland as well as Prince George’s County.
“Our budget is comprised of three entities: the dollars we receive from tuition and fees, the financial support that we receive from Prince George’s County government and the support that we receive in way of state aid from the state of Maryland,” Dukes said. “So we will need to understand how all of that will be impacted and the details just aren’t there yet.”
According to Dukes, the president’s plan will impact PGCC students and members of the learning community because it places more responsibility on the college to ensure it offers programs fully transfer to local four-year colleges and universities or occupational training programs with high graduation rates and that lead to degrees and certificates that are in demand among employers. It also requires states to invest more in higher education and training, and students to take on greater responsibility for their education by maintaining a 2.5 grade-point average.
“(Students) will have to be focused,” Dukes said. “They will have to enroll in programs and stay on target and stay on track.”
Marcel Adams, a freshman studying public relations at PGCC, said the president’s conditions for free tuition – that students attend community college at least half-time and maintain a 2.5 GPA – is fair.
“I believe that’s very fair because we can’t just get free money without meeting a certain standard,” Adams said. “So with his proposal, students have to meet a high expectation of them meaning that not only are they getting a quality education but also they will have quality grades as well.”
Kevin Maxwell, chief executive officer of Prince George’s County Public Schools, said Obama’s plan is “outstanding,” and a two-year free tuition will be invaluable to the job market.
“I think there are a number of job markets that are opening up that are going to be primarily for two-year degrees instead of four-year degrees,” Maxwell said. “I think it also opens that opportunity for kids to be able to get into some of those certification programs that will allow them to have good, well-paying jobs and prepare our students for the job market as it evolves.”
According to Maxwell, President Obama’s plan would have a significant effect on the school system.
“We have a good portion of our school system at this juncture. About two-thirds of our students are on free and reduced meals and I think that for those kids, the opportunity to go to college is even less probable than for many middle class families that are feeling the economic squeeze right now with stagnant wages,” Maxwell said. “So for the two-thirds of our kids who are on free and reduced meals, this is an opportunity that is more like a gift than anything else because their ability to afford college is greatly diminished.”