State of the Union: Answers to the Top 5 FAQ’s about free community college

Community College Classroom

Let’s face it, as a school counselor, you have far too many fires to fight on a daily basis to invest the kind of time you want with students in planning for life after graduation.  For many of you, the daily activities of the job are far different from that ideal image you had of your role when you first started down this career path.

There was a slightly humorous, but all too real graphical depiction of a “day in the life” of a school counselor posted a few years back that probably rings true for you as well:

8:00 AM - Meet with a senior and the teachers for the two courses he’s failing
8:30 AM - Weekly College Counseling Staff meeting
10:15 AM - Meet with my last junior to fill out his course request form for next year
11:40 AM - Grab a quick lunch, respond to emails that have piled up (hope to get to the voice mails)
12:30 PM - Meet with a junior who is finalizing her college list.  I learn that her father’s cancer has metastasized …
1:30 PM - Call the NCAA about invitational swim trials, then work on graduation reports
2:30 PM - Parent conference with parents of a rising senior to discuss college list, provide some reality therapy.
4:00 PM - Office closes; time to follow up on voice mails I didn’t get to at lunch.

Students planning to head to college are the easy ones … what about the large group of students for whom college is not a real option?  What about that upcoming career fair … how about the military recruiters that keep calling to come for a visit … the list and the needs are endless.

And then the President of the United States proposes free Community College.  Is it real? – is it possible?  If so, when would it happen and what does that mean?

To help address a few of the top questions, we’ve compiled some answers for some of the most frequently asked questions (FAQ) that have been posed to us about the possibility of free community college.

Q1: Is this actually going to happen?

A:  In the short term NO, in the long term YES.  Moving from K-12 to K-14 or K-20 in our opinion will happen, and probably within our lifetime.  Why?

  • NO, because right now it’s a political platform being set up for the next Presidential race in 2016.
  • YES because a) the infrastructure and funding mechanisms already exist to establish a free or virtually free K-14 education system and eventually a K-20 system. (think Pell Grants, Unemployment Insurance Taxes, existing funding to Community Colleges and State Schools, and subsidized loans)
  • and b) The rapid rise in technical (STEM) skills is so great that it must be addressed, and it must be addressed without decreasing current levels of education being provided in K-12

Q2: When is it going to happen?

A:  Within our lifetime but certainly not before the 2016 election.

This is a political issue, but it is a very real issue as well.  Neither political party is going to let the other “win” on this issue – because it is too big and too important, so don’t expect it to happen until after the next election and even then, perhaps not without control of both legislative and executive branches as was required to establish the federal healthcare law.

Q3: What do I say to parents and students who are already asking about free community college?

A:  This is a great opportunity to talk about the actual costs and the real benefits of a community college education.

Most parents (and probably students) have an initially negative view (unless your local community college has been doing a great job of outreach) of the community college.  They don’t often realize that it offers both a college and career pathway – where two years can lead to real employability outcomes in the shape of recognized certifications and technical credentials while at the same time delivering transferrable credits toward a four year degree.  It is not the end of the road, but rather a very low cost (because it is already highly subsidized through state and federal investment) option for families, and an option they should consider and respect more than they likely do.

Q4: If it does happen soon, how would that change my role?

A: Your workload would certainly increase …

…because once the community college system becomes a real option for families, you are not only the ideal person to bridge the gap, you are likely the only person able to bridge the gap between these two worlds.  Things to consider: transfer of credits, career pathing, expenses beyond tuition that are not covered.

Q5: Would free community college actually be free?

A: Not likely (but it is possible).

Here’s a great article on the actual costs of attending a community college.  Without any legislative details, it’s very hard to tell what expenses would actually be covered.  Most agree that tuition is the only expense that would be covered (at about $3,500 per year), but some argue that there is precedent for everything to be covered, which could save students an additional $10,000 per year.

What to do now to prepare?

Over the next few months, we are launching our classroom and career series, beginning with guidebooks for each series that are free for you.  All you need to do is sign up and let us know that you are interested in learning more and interested in accessing our free resources and ongoing training.  And thanks for the work that you do every day!


  1. Pam Cranford says:

    Thanks for the information

  2. Everton Barrett says:

    This is a wonderful idea. Count me in. My students and I are ready for the challenge.

  3. Susan Hanson says:

    Our local community college is excellent. We already offer dual credit math courses for our juniors and seniors through our community college. About 17% of our graduating seniors opt for our community college as a segue to a four-year degree because of the dramatic difference in cost and the qualityprograms offered. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out in the next few years.

  4. 17% is higher than the majority for certain, thanks for sharing. Are you able to track the types of programs those students are targeting – either career wise or college? We believe these tend to be more STEM in nature, but this kind of data isn’t well tracked to our knowledge. And if you don’t mind sharing, we’d love to hear the message you use or your approach as a practice that others might be able to adopt.

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