One of the interesting questions about the Clinton campaign is the degree to which it will embrace Barack Obama’s presidency.
Well, it seems that Hillary Clinton has endorsed an Obama proposal, and it is one of the worst ideas he’s had: the plan to make the first two years of community college free.
It is such a bad idea, as the American Interest explains, that criticism was immediate, intense—and correct:
When the plan was first announced, it drew immediate fire from analysts pointing out that community college completion rates are already so low, and that current students already need so much remedial work, that adding even more marginal students into an overburdened system might not turn out for the best.
It is pure Obama: sounds good but a disaster.
Megan McArdle also zeroed in on what’s wrong:
For too long, America's community colleges have been dropout mills, adept at attracting government-sponsored tuition checks, but not so good at issuing diplomas. So getting more of their students to stick with the program until commencement day is a worthy goal. President Barack Obama’s new answer — to provide free tuition to all community college students who maintain a C average — has an appealing simplicity. But it's probably too simple to do the trick.
High dropout rates are not all the community colleges' fault. Many students arrive unprepared or are distracted by job and family responsibilities. Tuition, on the other hand, is usually not the biggest obstacle to getting a degree.
Unlike at four-year colleges, where tuition is so high that normal families can’t afford it, tuition at community colleges is generally manageable for an ambitious student willing to work her way to a diploma. This used to be considered character-building. Federal grants are also already available. Cost to taxpayers for President Obama’s “free” community college program: $80 billion. (McArdle, by the way, believes that instead of blocking the plan, the GOP should add the complexity it needs. I’d prefer to see it go away.)
The American Interest gets to the heart of the matter: it isn’t that we need to make community college “free” (the infusion of more government cash will serve to raise tuition); what we really need is an educational system that prepares people not only to enter community colleges but to actually graduate:
There’s a sense of willful blindness and grim despair behind the Obama and, now, Hillary proposal. After 150 years of effort, the United States has not built an elementary school system that gets even 80 percent of young kids to functional literacy. After a century of trying, we haven’t built a secondary school system that remedies the problems created by elementary school failure, much less one that imparts the skills high school students need for success in college or adult life.
And nearly 70 years after the United States first launched the experiment of offering post-secondary educational opportunity to the masses rather than to a small and well-heeled elite, we still see many students slip through the cracks. Colleges and community colleges haven’t been able to remedy the deficiencies of our high schools any more than the high schools have been able to succeed where the grade schools failed.
It is disappointing—but not exactly unexpected—that Mrs. Clinton would embrace any Obama plan that sounds as if it is giving potential voters a freebie.
Too bad this plan won’t also give these voters functional literacy.
In the coming campaign, we’ll no doubt see Mrs. Clinton trying to buy off her party’s progressive wing with plans like this that sound generous but won’t do a thing to help the people she claims to want to champion.