Before making community college free to everyone, as President Obama proposed last week, we should make sure disadvantaged students receive their due portion of assistance.

Since Pell Grants already offer poorer students an opportunity to get associate degrees for free, it is mainly young adults from wealthy families who would benefit from making community college free to everyone.

What is needed more than free access, argues former New Yorker business editor Vauhini Vara, is a retooling of the community college system all together. For decades now, an employment and wage gap has emerged between college graduates and individuals with only a high school diploma. 

Holders of associate degrees, however, fall more to the side of high school graduates than four-year degree earners:

"In December, for example, the unemployment rate of 5.3 per cent for high-school graduates wasn’t much higher than the 4.9 per cent rate for people with associate’s degrees or some other amount of college less than a bachelor’s degree."

It is encouraging that Obama's proposal includes plans to help fund community-college programs with "strong employer partnerships" and "work-based learning opportunities" that are meant to help workers get jobs in fast-growing fields such as energy, technology, and advanced manufacturing.

This middle ground is sorely lacking, says Jeff Livingston, Senior VP of Education Policy at McGraw-Hill Education:

Read more at the New Yorker

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