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Free Community College — But at a Cost


How much is a free two-year degree worth? That’s the question facing the state of Tennessee. Gov. Bill Haslam’s “Tennessee Promise” program offers to pick up community college tuition bills for anything other aid doesn’t cover — at the cost of about $1.1 million of scholarships to four-year schools.


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At the heart of the argument is the nature of the value of education. Is it vocational training or something harder to define, like personal development?

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If it’s the former, Gov. Haslam’s plan makes perfect sense. He tells The Wall Street Journal that business owners in his state have complained that there aren’t enough qualified workers for the jobs they have available.

The president of Chattanooga State Community College concurs, telling WSJ that four-year colleges have “delivered a lot of people into the workplace who are not prepared for the workplace. And unfortunately, they carry a lot of debt.”

Of course, ideally, it wouldn’t be an either/or proposition: when Baby Boomers were in college, it was still possible to pay for a four-year education at a state school by working in high school and during the summers. Now, in-state tuition at some public schools will run you over $100,000 for four years, if you’re not lucky enough to get financial aid.

It’s important to address the skills gap between open positions and unemployed workers, and a program that offers free community college would certainly help. But it’s easy to understand how opponents of Tennessee Promise are concerned that job training will come at the expense of education.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you think free community college would be worth fewer scholarships to four-year schools? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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