Obama to break his promise

Upon closer look Obama’s grand gesture lacks substance.

By Don Harward, Special to the Star


The instantly-popular America’s College Promise proposal made by the President in his State of

the Union address will not result in more Americans being able to pursue a college education.

America’s College Promise is a proverbial Trojan horse, a prime example of the Obama

administration’s political prowess against a hostile congress. On the surface this plan, which

promises to make the first two years of community college free, appears to be a noble and non-

partisan gesture. Closer inspection reveals that it is neither. Disregarding the fact Republicans

control congress, the enormous price tag of $60 billion over 10 years nearly ensures that the plan

will be dead-on-arrival in either house of congress. Such an outcome will provide the Democrats

with plenty of “anti-education” ammunition against any congressional GOP member seeking re-

election. The Republicans find themselves in a no-win situation because even if the proposal

were to pass, the Democrats will be able to accuse their rivals of being fiscally irresponsible,

without fear of reprisal against Obama because he is politically retired.

The America’s College Promise plan will benefit only a very limited number of community

college students and is unlikely to increase enrollment at all. The small number of students that

are already attending Valley college full-time and do not receive any financial aid could expect

to see a savings of $138 per month. For the majority of the student body, those who do get some

financial assistance from the government, the plan will have little to no impact at all. This is due

to the tuition already being waived or substantially reduced by the State of California for those

receiving federal aid; such as a Pell grant or food stamp recipients, for example. The plan would

provide a substantial windfall for the State though, because 75 percent of the cost of waiving

tuitions would then be absorbed by the federal government. But the states are not who has been

touted as being the intended beneficiaries of Obama’s plan, who then is the plan designed to


During the unveiling speech for the America’s College Promise plan, delivered on January 9,

2015, at Pellissippi community college in Knoxville, TN, President Obama stated that no one

“should be denied a college education just because they don’t have the money. Every American,

whether they’re young or just young at heart, should be able to earn the skills and education

necessary to compete and win in the 21st century economy.”

By far, the largest group of Americans who lack the financial resources, but would otherwise

pursue a college education are; those self-supporting 18-29 year olds who have the equivalent of

a high school diploma. Yet, it is precisely this segment of the population whom the plan most

egregiously fails to assist. The Promise will do next to nothing for them, because tuition is not

the major barrier which denies them an opportunity to get a community college education.

The America’s College Promise plan is doomed to fail in reaching its goal of increasing the pool

of American college graduates because it duplicates the faulty reasoning employed by the Pell

grant program with respect to its recipients. The abject failure of the Pell grant program to

produce college graduates lies not in its target or its goals, but in its execution. In order to

increase the education level of young Americans you must first look at why those who have a

desire to go to college—don’t. By far, the single biggest reason for those who qualify for

financial assistance and still don’t go to school is that they cannot afford to go. The grant amount

currently provided isn’t enough to offset the amount of lost earnings that a typical self-

supporting high school graduate depends upon to pay for basic living expenses.

According to the U.S. Census 2014 Current Population Survey the mean earnings for a high

school graduate who is not attending college is $17,638 per year which equates to $368 per

week. For those potentially attending Valley, weekly expenses of $250 for rent, $50 for utilities,

$30 for food and $30 for gas are conservative and leave only $8 for other expenses. The $138 per

week savings that Obama would like to promise offsets only part of the additional expense of

going to college, those living expenses do not go away. The only thing that does go away for a

college student trying to maintain passing grades is; the amount of time available to do anything

else. Finding a part-time job that pays above minimum wage and that will accommodate a school

schedule is difficult and finding a full-time one is near impossible. The current maximum aid

amount of under $6,000 falls short by over $10,000, it is that deficit which many find to be the

insurmountable barrier to attaining a higher education.

What the Promise will do is; it will bring the entire education assistance system closer to collapse

by adding another $6 billion annually to the already inflated $40 billion the Department of

Education earmarks for college assistance, as reported by Investor’s Business Daily. According

to the Hechinger Report, the Obama administration has also introduced tax credits which cost the

government another $34 billion per year, while mostly only benefitting families with earnings

higher than $100k annually. The Report cites research “showing that 13 out of 14 students whose

families received tax breaks on tuition would have gone to college anyway.” Considering that the

entire Department of Education college assistance budget was $16 billion before Obama took

office, and would, when combined with the cost of the tax credits, be a whopping $80

billion—an increase of $74 billion per year; it is not at all that difficult to envision some funding

difficulties in the years ahead. Yet, for all those bucks we have received incredibly little bang,

according to the US Census Bureau college enrollment rates by 18 – 24 years olds has increased

by little more than 4 percent since Obama took office.

Perhaps we should consider the President’s inability to work with Congress a blessing in


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