homepage logo

Pros and cons of tuition-free community college

By Staff | Jan 30, 2019

The State Senate has taken the lead in working on the proposal by Governor Jim Justice to provide “tuition-free” community college to a limited number of West Virginians.

I use the word “free,” although his proposal does not meet my definition of “free.” Lately, his bill is being described more bureaucratically (and, in my view, opaquely) as “last dollar in.”

What he actually proposes is for people to apply for a grant, and if the application is approved he or she would be required to attain a two-year degree and to live and work in West Virginia for two years. This grant would be available only to the extent that the person does not qualify for any other grant or scholarship. I believe very few people will take advantage of this program, which is possibly why the price tag is only $8 million.

It almost seems to me that what the governor wants is to be able to say that West Virginia has a “tuition-free community college” program without spending any money on it.

I think we need to increase the percentage of people in our state that have college degrees. But this bill will not do the trick. Doing that trick will cost real money.

Another problem I see with the bill is that it is restricted to community colleges, ignoring those who belong in vocational training schools or four-year college programs.

Some individuals graduating from high school would be best suited pursuing a four-year college degree immediately. Others are best suited in a community college program. And some would be best suited in vocational training. If state government “favors” only one of these three paths (by providing a financial incentive not provided to folks choosing either of the others), it’s not being fair to those whose best choice would be one of the other two paths.

The result would be, to some extent, those who should be traveling one of those other two paths, choosing to travel the community college one, because of the lesser expense. We would be driving square pegs into round holes, doing a disservice to both the individuals and society at large.

Furthermore, should more than a few people choose the community college route as opposed to one of the other two, we would see overcrowded community colleges, and more empty seats in vocational schools and four-year colleges and universities. This would not be the optimal use of our physical plants.

Personally, I would like to see us find and spend the money it would take to provide tuition-free post-secondary education for two years, in either a four-year college or university, a community college or a vocational school. Failing that, we should at the very least make the governor’s limited program available to those going into vocational training or to a four year institution of higher learning.

We need a system of post-secondary education that encourages every West Virginian to pursue the goals for which he or she has the strongest talents.

John Doyle is a delegate for the West Virginia District 67. He can be reached at johndoyle@wvhouse.gov.