WIUM Tristates Public Radio

The Devil Will be in the Details of Community College Proposal

Jan 12, 2015

A couple community college presidents in western Illinois are generally supportive of a proposal from the White House.

President Barack Obama last week announced the program, “America’s College Promise.” It would make a two-year community college education free to all Americans.

Credit Rich Egger

Spoon River College President Curt Oldfield said he is intrigued by the idea.  But he pointed out higher education is more of a state responsibility than a federal responsibility.  He’s interested in seeing how the federal government works with states to ensure funding is available for the program.

He’s also unsure how Illinois can make the plan a reality.

“There’s certainly a number of other fiscal challenges that are in the front of the line for the state of Illinois right now.  So it may take a while before the state would be able to absorb that cost,” said Oldfield.

Oldfield said SRC could absorb the extra demand if the program proved popular and drove up enrollment.

Carl Sandburg College President Lori Sundberg said she favors the president’s plan because it could improve the economy.

CSC President Lori Sundberg
Credit Carl Sandburg College

“Many of our communities would like to increase our skills and abilities of our workforce.  And so, this can be used for career technical education, and it can also be used for transfer education,” Sundberg said.

Nonetheless, Sundberg also has concerns about funding sources for the program, and she’s concerned about whether it can be sustained in the long term.

“The first year, we’ll take in the first class.  But then, the next year we’re going to have two sets of classes running.  And if it is not tied to just those 18 years olds coming out of high school -- the pieces I like is that they’re going to be able to let people who’ve already graduated come back.  But then that’s going to increase the pool that go into this free program,” Sundberg said.

She agreed with the President about the current value of a high school degree.  She said it does not carry the weight it once did, which increases the need for at least a community college education.