Obama definitely came across as a candidate favorable to the interest of students, schools, and teachers, but there’s still a whole list of political and institutional reasons why college education won’t become a free nationwide entitlement.
New financial aid and work study programs are likely to be drafted over the next year and voted on soon after that, but even then it can take another six months to a few additional years to create the necessary bureaucratic structure to administer and operate the new systems of financial disbursement.
Free college programs we might see in 2 – 3 years
- Increased funding for the Pell grant: Obama has always been a fan of the Pell grant, in fact one of his first actions in Congress was to support and campaign for higher grant funding amounts. As tragic as it is, the passing of Senator Claiborne Pell may cause more work to be done for the cause that bears his name.
- Tax-Free Income for Tuition: Students and parents who pay for tuition might soon see much larger tax deductions on income used to pay for college expenses. While the credit encourages employment, it is also planned to require 100 hours of community service for a student to be eligible. You can read more about this plan and Obama’s other higher education funding proposals here, but be warned – its a PDF file!
- Media Campaigns / Increase Public Awareness of Free College Opportunities: Sort of like what I try to do here with this blog, I guess! There’s been a big problem over the last few years and it seems to be getting worse: Students are either unaware of college funding opportunities that are available to them or they’re put off by the complexity of the process. While Obama hopes to streamline the FAFSA and financial aid process into the tax process, there’s still a lot of people that just don’t realize how much money is available for college students and the parents of those students. More than a million eligible students fail to apply for free federal financial aid every year!
A College Reform Proposal that Might Not Happen So Soon
- Eliminate student loan banking subsidies: One idea that Obama has campaigned on is cutting off the student loan industry from the lucrative federal subsidies that virtually guarantee profitability of student loan companies. The problem with getting rid of these subsidies is not just that there are financial interests influencing congress, but also that these loans provide the money required to keep our colleges full of tuition-paying students. Student loans are big business, and if the government tries to take on all of the industry’s functions there may be problems and deficiencies in marketing, customer service, and consumer awareness of available opportunities.
Or Anything Could Happen
The problem with speculation is that it’s often wrong. Unforeseen events could unfold over the next six months and completely derail any potential interest in higher education and college funding reform. With the way the economy is headed, perhaps we should even expect that further financial pressure will deflate some of the initial goals laid out in Obama’s campaign plan. And even though Congress is filled with Democrats who are likely to support Obama in general, there is also a strong likelihood that Senators will use federal financing legislation to promote projects of interest to their local and state constituencies.
Even if the programs do start to be implemented soon, free college will still require drawing on multiple sources of funding. There will just be more federally funded sources!