#EMchat and #FreeCommunityCollege Transcript!

What a great chat last night! Check out the transcript below. All of our #EMchat transcripts can be found in our archives -- lots to learn. Thanks to our contributors this week, Ben Kohl, John McGreal, and Yolanda Norman! 

#FreeCommunityCollege Series - Chatting Tonight at 9ET!

Last Friday, President Obama announced the Free Community College initiative. Google that. You’ll get 436M results. This week, #EMchat added three posts to that number from some pros in the industry to get the conversation moving in our community before our chat tonight at 9PM ET. All of the contributors asked some great questions and have provided a solid foundation for a great (much needed) conversation.

Thanks to our contributors this week and make sure to check out their posts before joining in tonight!


Ben Kohl, Assistant Director for the Office of Student Financial Assistance, Kansas State University

John McGreal, Regional Recruiter, University of Alabama

Yolanda Norman, Founder and Education and Leadership Strategist, FirstGenCollege

See you at 9PM eastern on #EMchat for a great discussion!

#FreeCommunityCollege Series - Yolanda Norman

This week, we’re running a series of posts on #FreeCommunityCollege from professionals from across the industry. The goal is to cover the basics and offer differing viewpoints to begin the conversation before our chat on the topic this Thursday at 9PM ET.

Today’s post comes from Yolanda Norman, Founder and Education and Leadership Strategist of FirstGenCollege. Read more about Yolanda here or connect with her on Twitter.

You get a degree! You get a degree!

Everybody gets a degree!

Thanks for letting me get my “Oprah moment” out because that’s exactly what I heard in my head when President Obama announced his plan to make community colleges free for all “responsible students”. For anyone who knows me, you know I am proud to be a first-generation college graduate and have a passion for educating others on the benefits of a college education. So of course, I was ecstatic to hear this great initiative and eager to learn more about how much it will cost and where the money will come from. Well, that money part… we are still waiting for as the president hasn’t revealed how this “free education” will be funded.

As we wait for more details on the money, I look forward to the growing college aspirations this will bring to those families and students who counted a college education out simply based on finances. We can certainly tell students about loans, scholarships, and grants, until we are blue in the face; however, some students can’t see past their overdue medical bills, childcare concerns, or finding a second job, much less trying to pay for college. This new plan can potentially take away some of those excuses and remind students that these two years  that were once seen as impossible may soon become an entitlement.

As excited as I am about this potential game changer, I’m also mindful of the challenges that may come along with any change. Presently, we have high school students being under matched in their college search and I’m concerned some students will take the community college option blindly rather than learn about the best option for them. Research repeatedly shows us that students who are not academically challenged at their institution have a higher chance of dropping out and not completing their degree. While community colleges may be the best option for some, my hope is that school districts will emphasize students must still do their research when deciding which school is that best fit for them individually.

Another important point to consider is the faculty. A number of adjunct faculty work at community colleges who are often less experienced than full-time faculty found at four-year institutions. Will the president’s plan include expectations about whose teaching the courses and the process of transferring credits for those students who want to move on to complete their bachelors degree? Don’t get me wrong, I support the community college environment, but there were differences in the English class taught at my university versus the English class down the street at the local community college. If community college becomes a reality for any student that wants it, my hope is that the resources and rigor found on the campuses will also receive an improvement.

On a side note, as a Tennessee native, I’m proud to know that the Tennessee Promise was one of the President’s inspirations for this vision. One of the big pieces for the TN program is there is a mentor component to it to help students stay on track and succeed. Will the President’s plan include a mentor component or will that be left up to each individual state?

The desire of community college for all is certainly a step in the right direction and I’m keeping my eyes open to see the important details of how this program will come together and ultimately change our nation for the better. Keep the conversation going by leaving me a comment on what you think and don’t forget to connect with me on Twitter (@firstgencollege). I’m all about engaging and changing our world one step at a time!

#FreeCommunityCollege Series - John McGreal

This week, we’re running a series of posts on #FreeCommunityCollege from professionals from across the industry. The goal is to cover the basics and offer differing viewpoints to begin the conversation before our chat on the topic this Thursday at 9PM ET.

Today’s post comes from John McGreal, Regional Recruiter for the University of Alabama. Read more about John here or connect with him on Twitter.

America's College Promise --

The upside of the program is clear and present, however in the hours and days after the announcement was made I find myself conflicted over it.  The premise is fantastic! Give every student in America the opportunity to achieve an Associate’s degree or technical training without cost as long as they are willing to work for it.  Since the President’s speech, ‘willing to work for it’ has been defined.  Students would need to maintain a 2.5 GPA.  While this program sounds great in the abstract, there are a number of concerns that will have to be addressed.

The estimated cost for this program is 60 billion dollars in the first ten years.  The revenue for the program has yet to be identified.  State governments who choose to opt into the program will be required to pick up the remaining 25%; an additional 20 billion dollars.  For the federal government to come up with this amount of revenue, taxes will have to be levied or other programs will have to be squeezed.  This could mean the end of the Pell grant which makes a higher education affordable for roughly 9 million students at various points in their undergraduate education.  State government would need raise their share as well.  They will turn to funding to public/flagship institutions in their state, they will do away with programs like the MAP grant [Illinois version of the Pell grant], or again rise their income tax.

Student motivation and preparation is another concern.  Entitlement programs run into people not taking the desired advantage.  Students might not be as motivated to achieve high academic honors if they are not responsible for paying for their education.  The program does require a 2.5 GPA in order to continue to be eligible for it.  Hopefully this will incentivize students enough to strive to excellence while attending community college. However, students who benefit from a ‘gap’ year may not consider taking a year off before starting college.  For some students who need additional time to mature before heading off to college the gap year can be essential to their future success. With community college becoming an entitlement, some students may not think twice about whether or not it is the right choice for them.  An emphasis will need to be placed on career counseling at community to ensure that students are using their time and this opportunity to its fullest.  In the event that students do not succeed due to lack of motivation or lack of preparedness, they would also be saddled with a low GPA that will follow them during their entire education experience.  This will cause the students to suffer and the system of higher education to shift.

This would also cause a few tectonic shifts within higher education as a whole.  First, the community college system would be extremely taxed within the first few years of implementation.  If the program takes off the way it should, there will be an influx of students into the system.  This will cause class sizes to skyrocket before the colleges could afford to hire new teachers.  Smaller facilities will not be able to handle the number of courses being offered at one time.  This will result in the need for new, larger facilities to be built—again before the revenue is in hand.  Overcrowding could lead to falling scores within the curriculum.  Any study on educational best practices shows that smaller class sizes are more conducive to learning.

Secondly, the 4-year institutions will be faced with some interesting challenges.  They will see a dip in revenue from two areas.  With less first-year and second year students on campus, universities will need to focus on transfer recruitment and compact agreements between them and community colleges.  The new standard could easily be 2 + 2 agreements for bachelors programs [or even 2 + 3 programs that allow students to graduate with a masters upon completion. This is already happening to some effect with programs like 5-year MBAs, 6-year Physical Therapy Doctoral programs, and so on.].  Smaller colleges and universities could face large budget short falls that could cause them to close down entirely.   Student services offered at 4-year schools would also have to be evaluated.  With more students focused on entering their chosen careers first-year programing might have to be cut and less student activities offered. On the other hand, career services will become much more crucial to institution.  There will likely be many more students focused on their career and internship opportunities.

Lastly, admissions staffs and enrollment management professionals will have to rethink their processes within the funnel.  Less first-year students will consider 4-year institutions to start off their college career.  The transfer funnel is 6 months and you are usually working with at least two at a time.  Admission counselors and recruiters will have to adjust their mindset.  The office will undergo a reshaping to focus more on transfer recruitment.  However, more scholarship money could devoted to transfer students to aid them in completing their degree. This could greatly assist in the current student debt crisis in the US.

America’s College Promise could be a great program, but there will be many issues and road blocks that have to be addressed by the federal government.  If implemented properly, if state governments can be brought on board, this quixotic program can be a game changer for students across America.

#FreeCommunityCollege Series - Ben Kohl

This week, we're running a series of posts on #FreeCommunityCollege from professionals from across the industry. The goal is to cover the basics and offer differing viewpoints to begin the conversation before our chat on the topic this Thursday at 9PM ET.

Today's post comes from Ben Kohl, Assistant Director for the Office of Student Financial Assistance at Kansas State University. Ben is also currently the President of the Kansas Association of Financial Aid Administrators and is completing his PhD at Kansas State in Student Affairs in Higher Education Administration. Read more about Ben here or connect with him on Twitter.

The concept of 2 free years of community college for anyone “willing to work for it” has now been talked about for a week. President Obama announced his America’s College Promise proposal on Friday, in Pellissippi, Tennessee. Since then, the proposal has been received with unbridled celebration and viewed with careful skepticism.

 This plan is subject to Congressional approval and many consider it DOA, as reported in the Wall Street Journal. The plan depends on $60 billion from state governments over the next decade to defray tuition and fees for anyone who attends community college at least half-time, maintains 2.5 GPA, and is on track to complete an academic program or transfer to a 4-year university. The federal government would provide the remaining 75% of the cost of the program. If all 50 states choose to implement the President's new community college proposal, it could save a full-time community college student $3,800 in tuition per year on average and benefit roughly 9 million students each year.

 You are probably interested in understanding what this #FreeCommunityCollege proposal means for enrollment management purposes. As someone who has worked for over a decade in higher educational financial aid, I pose a number of questions I’m considering and seeking answers to before making a judgment about the proposal. 

  1. How will free tuition at community colleges improve enrollment rates and student success? NCES shows that at community colleges (2-year institutions), 31% of 1st time, full-time students graduate with an Associates Degree or transfer to a 4-year institution within 3 years. Research demonstrates that tuition and federal/state grant aid do influence enrollment rates.
  2. How should community colleges prepare for the influx of enrollment and student success? Right now, 45% of the nation’s 24 million college students are enrolled at a community college.
  3. How will direct federal funding encourage community colleges to improve? Elementary and Secondary Education Act (No Child Left Behind)
  4. How will America’s College Promise keep up with the increasing higher educational costs to effectively deliver higher education? Is there an inflationary factor in the plan to account for increasing costs of faculty and staff salaries, facilities, equipment, etc.? All the details of America’s College Promise that exist right now.
  5. How might America’s College Promise limit innovations from the private education sector? If the plan is only for public community colleges, it has the potential of becoming a public monopoly similar to our primary and secondary educational systems.
  6. What are the implications of America’s College Promise for 4-year higher educational institutions? 

America’s College Promise may be up against tremendous political opposition. However, President Obama has introduced an innovative idea that could be written into law with some political massaging and debate. America’s College Promise may not be written into law soon, but I think we will see a similar idea as law within the next 5 years. Stay tuned and let your voice be heard.