Report: Obama’s Free College Proposal Spends Billions on Students Who Won’t Receive a Degree

Proposal invests in poor-performing community colleges

Barack Obama / AP
January 6, 2016

President Barack Obama’s free college proposal would spend $36 billion on 5.4 million students who will likely never receive a college degree, according to a report from the American Action Forum.

The proposal includes $60 billion for schools to provide two years of "free" postsecondary education to students at community colleges. The report notes this sum would only cover the cost of tuition and fees, not the full cost of attendance.

Research finds that only 39 percent of community college students complete their studies and receive a degree. "This means that the president’s free college proposal would effectively be spending $36 billion of a $60 billion investment on up to 5.4 million students who will likely never receive any type of college credential," the report states.

According to a study from the National Student Clearinghouse, recipients of the president’s plan are "highly unlikely" to earn a degree that would generate economic gain.

Community colleges are among the worst-performing types of schools in American higher education, and data shows that those who attend community college have higher unemployment rates and lower earnings than those who attend a traditional four-year college.

"It’s important to note that the federal taxpayer’s $60 billion investment provides grant dollars to students regardless of whether they actually receive a degree," the report states. "It provides aid whether the student is part of a family of four that lives below the poverty line or part of a family that makes $200,000 per year."

The proposal would require states to invest $20 billion on top of the $60 billion the federal government is already spending. If this amount is included, close to $48 billion could be lost as a result of the president’s proposal.

"The last thing our country needs right now is another program like Obamacare, and that is in effect what the free college program would be," Chad Miller, one of the authors of the report, said.

The Department of Education did not return requests for comment by press time.