Higher education discourse must be broadened


The Appalachian Online

Kevin Griffin

President Obama’s proposal to provide free community college to students meeting certain requirements is interesting because it is so rare that the idea of free higher education in any form gains much traction in mainstream discourse.

The plan would give two free years of community college to individuals who enroll at least part-time and maintain a minimum 2.5 grade point average, according to www.whitehouse.gov.

Should this plan or any version ever become law, these things should certainly be addressed.

What I find most interesting is the impact this may have on the discussion about higher education in the United States. Given the political situation, it is unlikely that the Obama plan, or even a similar plan, would pass congress.

Still, having someone as major as the president push for free higher education does matter. In part because of cultural beliefs about the role of government and need for self-reliance, the idea of free higher education does go over well with many people.

Yet, for over a century now we have come to accept the idea that the government will not only provide but mandate public education for children up through high school. The rationale behind this was that a certain level of education was needed in the general public to promote a strong, modern economy.

Certainly we could at least debate the merits of extending that beyond primary schooling, given the changes that have taken place in the world and the need for higher education to have economic success.

The debate about higher education should be broadened so that we can truly examine what the best approach should be. Rather than rejecting the idea of free higher education out of hand, we should debate the idea both philosophically and practically, to see if it is right and feasible.

Personally, I would not go so far as to support universal free education, but do think that government should make efforts to ensure as many people can have access as possible.

For that reason, plans such as the one proposed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren that would allow students to refinance loans is a good one because it allows for personal responsibility and flexibility. Unfortunately, the bill failed in the Senate, according to The Washington Post.

However, I believe the discourse can benefit from a variety of views, even and perhaps particularly by those deemed radical. If nothing else comes of it, I hope the proposal at least helps open up the discussion.

Griffin, a junior journalism major from Madison, is an opinion writer.