America’s College Promise presents numerous benefits, little downside

President Barack Obama introduced the America’s College Promise program last week, which would make two years of community college free to students. The presence of a Republican-controlled Congress, however, makes the probability of this outcome very slim. A stubborn sense of states’ rights and a reluctance to spend $60 billion keep some politicians from supporting the act. Democrats and Republicans alike should support this act, though, because the potential benefits are large while the cost is relatively small.

To begin with, crime rates would likely decrease if more people went to college. A University of California, Berkeley study found incarceration rates decreased as education level rose. Among people with a high school diploma, 0.34 percent of white men and 2.18 percent of black men had been incarcerated. Among men who had experienced some college, 0.24 percent of white men and 1.97 percent of black men had been incarcerated. Increased accessibility to higher education would prompt more people to continue their education, thus 
lowering their risks of incarceration.

The act would also tap into a vast well of previously unexplored talent. PBS reports that 39.4 percent of Americans hold an associate’s degree or higher. This means more than 60 percent of America’s population – because of financial reasons or otherwise – do not have a college degree. Forbes reports that 79 percent of students born into the top quartile of the income ladder earn bachelor’s degrees while only 11 percent of students born into the bottom quartile do the same. In a world where a college degree is needed to compete for certain jobs, it seems wrong, if not wasteful, to allow a rich person access to a degree while barring a poor person of equal intellect from the 
same opportunity.

The act would also be a boon to the students who find themselves deeper in debt every year. CNN reports that as of September 2014, the collective student-loan debt has reached $1.2 trillion. The average debt among student borrowers is $29,000. If two years of college were free to students, this figure would drop significantly, allowing students to pursue a degree without experiencing such a cumbersome amount of debt.

Finally, although the cost of the plan sounds cripplingly expensive, it is actually relatively cheap. President Obama proposed that the federal government spend $60 billion over the course of 10 years and that the states pay for a quarter of the cost. This would place the cost at $80 billion after 10 years at $8 billion yearly. America’s government can easily afford this act, especially if it scrapes out of its defense budget, which was $526.6 billion in 2014. $8 billion is only 1.5 percent of $526.6 billion – a mere 1.5 percent of the defense budget could pay for the tuition of the nine million students expected to participate in the program. With the possibility of lower student debt, lower crime rates and an increase in innovative entrepreneurs, $60 billion seems like a bargain.

Passing the America’s College Promise program would not only be good for individuals but also for the community as a whole. Students in massive debt and people who previously could not afford a degree would find relief in this program, and citizens across the nation would enjoy lower crime rates. Meanwhile, the program costs very little compared to other government expenses, so for all the potential benefits there is very little downside.

TJ Parks is a freshman majoring in journalism, anthropology and 
history. His column runs biweekly.

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