Two Years of Free Community College for Every American???

President Obama will propose free 2 years of community college for all in his State of the Union Whitehouse page with 2 minute presentation by the president.  And here’s a paper from last year proposing a variation on what Obama will put forward in SOTU address – main author is the colleague I wrote op-ed post with the other day.

Address (plan is to announce it Friday in Tennessee which has a sort of program). Here’s the

It’s got potential in terms of combating social inequality in the US, but also potential impact on the business model of non-elite colleges and universities.   If the popular understanding becomes “our society will let you complete the first two years of college for free,” it’s going to make a whole lot of sense for a large fraction of American families to think in terms of 2+2.

Yes, it’s going to mean that CCs are going to have to up their game and they’ll need far more comprehensive funding than they are currently receiving.  But assuming things move in that direction, the non-elites might find themselves exposed to price sensitivity like they’ve never seen before.

These schools may have to choose between more intense competition for dwindling supply of folks who can borrow enough to pay (hiring PR firms to sell the benefits of 4!) or do some serious design thinking about how to thrive in such an environment.  At a minimum, can we expect such schools to have articulation agreements in place for every major with all the top transfer feeder schools?   But will that be enough?  Some careful financial modeling may be in order – to figure out whether there are actually enough dollars out there for the business of degree completion to be sustainable.

Still, the new policy proposal is change you can believe in, as they say.

Author: Dan Ryan

I've been an Academic Program Director at, a professor at University of Toronto, University of Southern California, and Mills College teaching things like human centered design, computational thinking, modeling for policy sciences, and social theory. My current mission is to figure out how to reorganize higher education and exploit technology so that we can teach twice as many twice as well twice as easily.

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