Support for ‘free’ community college spurs debate

Jessica Voorhees

Members of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System recently voiced their support of President Barack Obama’s proposal to provide two free years of community college to all students.

Kris Williams, president of Henderson Community College, a KCTCS school, said the proposal could provide opportunities to many who seek higher education degrees.

“It could positively impact thousands of Kentuckians,” she said.

KCTCS is a system of 16 Kentucky community and technical colleges, seven of which partner with WKU through a Joint Admissions agreement.

HCC is a Joint Admissions partner with WKU. 

Through Joint Admissions, students work to complete an associate degree at their community college while simultaneously enrolled at WKU. The program allows for a transition from the associate degree to a bachelor’s degree from WKU. 

Williams said she felt that if the proposal were to take effect it would be a “win-win” for WKU and HCC. 

Williams said she believes the proposal would improve the partnership between HCC and WKU by bringing more students to the transfer program.

Jay Allen, president of Hopkinsville Community College, another KCTCS and Joint Admissions partner school with WKU, said WKU receives a “fairly significant portion” of graduates from his school.

Allen said the proposal would provide an opportunity for more students to afford to go on to get their bachelor’s degree.

“We have a diverse set of students who come from various socioeconomic backgrounds,” he said. “It’s an exciting possibility for students across the country.”

Williams said she hopes state and federal funding will be in place for the program. 

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Williams said. 

President Gary Ransdell said he was not surprised by KCTCS’s support of the proposal.

“Of course they would,” he said. “Who’s not in favor of higher education?”

However, Ransdell said he was concerned with the funding of the program.

“My enthusiasm is tempered,” he said.

Obama’s proposal states that federal money will fund 75 percent of the cost of community college, and participating states will provide the remaining 25 percent.

Ransdell said he was “not enamored” with the federal government funding the program. He said he was also concerned about the states’ ability to afford it.

“I don’t see how states can invest in this,” he said.

Ransdell said there has not been an increase in state funds toward higher education since 2006 and he felt “uneasy” about states paying for community college “at the expense of four-year institutions.”

According to Ransdell, bachelor, master and doctoral degrees drive the economy and he believes the proposal may not be strategic when considering the broader economic development.