January 9, 2015

What Does Obama’s Free Community College Proposal Have to Do With Pre-K? More Than You Think!

By Bellwether

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Last night, the White House announced a proposal to make 2 years of community college free for any student who attends at least part time, maintains a 2.5 GPA, and makes progress towards completion. The program, which will be included in the administration’s FY 2016 budget request, would be funded with 75 percent federal funds and a 25 percent state match.
I know your first reaction to this was: “What does this mean for pre-k?”
Okay, I’d actually be shocked if that was anyone’s reaction. But, just to demonstrate my impressive ability to make any education topic about pre-k, here are some pre-k related reactions:

  • This could help improve qualifications of early childhood teachers: According to a recent report from the Center for the Study of Childcare Employment, only 60 percent of preschool or childcare teachers have an associate’s degree or higher. States and the federal government (in Head Start) have taken steps in recent years to increase the qualifications of early childhood teachers, but early childhood teachers face numerous barriers–not the least of which is the cost of higher education tuition–particularly given the low pay of early childhood workers. Because this proposal would be open to adult workers returning to school, as well as recent college graduates, it could help more early childhood workers earn postsecondary credentials.
  • Another targeted vs. universal debate!:  Vox’s Libby Nelson notes that some advocates for low-income students fear making 2 years of community college free for all students would disproportionately benefit middle class students who can afford to pay tuition, rather than low-income students who need more help. This sounds a lot like the universal vs. targeted debate in pre-k. Interestingly, where one comes down in either of these debates has a lot to do with how you believe the program will impact family expectations and the K-12 education system. Supporters of college for all believe that providing universal access will encourage more low-income students and their families to see going to college as a real possibility and increase expectations on K-12 schools to prepare these students for college. Similarly, advocates for universal preschool believe that universal access will encourage families to see preschool as education rather than babysitting, and that providing all children a quality early learning experience that prepares them for kindergarten will enable K-12 schools to change their curricula and instructional practices to further accelerate children’s learning.
  • Expanding the boundaries of public education: Ultimately, both this proposal and universal pre-k proposals represent efforts to expand the boundaries of public education–to start earlier and end later–in recognition that our nation’s future economic success depends on improving skills and knowledge of future generations. While some might see this proposal as a choice to invest in college students rather than little kids, an alternative conclusion might be that it reflects a growing recognition that the boundaries of our current education system are largely arbitrary and no longer make sense for our current economy and needs. That’s good new for both community college and pre-k.

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