Your initial reaction is likely only a small objection, as you are presumably part of a significant portion of Americans who understand the burden of student loans and would have loved to have gone to college for free. The President seems to put your mind at ease by assuring you that this would apply to community colleges and recipients would be required to earn a 2.5 GPA and graduate on time. "Well that settles that!" you think, "Requiring a high GPA and on-time graduation would force students to take the opportunity seriously."
Unfortunately, there are several things most people will not consider.
1. It won't be free.
This is probably the most obvious issue with the President's plan upon close inspection. With a Federal deficit over $18 trillion as of Mr. Obama's speech, a program of this size could place a huge strain on taxpayers and an economy returning from the worst recession since the Great Depression. The funds have to come from somewhere, and this will be reflected in the Federal government's main revenue stream: taxes. Every American, even the ones who receive the free tuition, will be paying for this program.
2. It doesn't fix the problem.
The main problem is the astronomical rise in tuition, something which the President plans to combat with a new and improved Federal Student Loans program. THAT is where efforts should be focused, NOT in providing more "free lunch" to potentially unqualified recipients. College will still be incredibly expensive, so does that mean the government will have to pay these ridiculously high prices?
3. Credential inflation will be uncontrollable.
A college degree used to be a guarantee of employment, but those days have passed. It is now incredibly difficult in some cases for qualified college graduates to find work fitting their educational level. Why is that? Because of simple supply and demand. More and more students are leaving high school and entering college, as many in our society maintain that higher education is a right. A higher supply of college graduates means there is less demand for them, and more competition for positions. Now imagine every high school student in the country is continuing their education into college (many of them for free). What inevitably occurs is a dramatic shift upwards in qualification requirements: a bachelor's degree becomes the new "high school diploma." And boy, we think there are problems with unemployment now? Wait until all of these graduates with bachelor's degrees refuse to do lower paying jobs they perceive to be beneath them... And what will happen to the college dropouts? Or students with educational exceptionalities?
4. Grade inflation will be more rampant than it already is.
Students attend college for free. Classes fill with students sponsored by the federal government (guaranteed tuition for the college). Professors keep their classes full (and their jobs intact) by keeping students there. If 2.5 GPA is the minimum, and professors/colleges want to guarantee that federal tuition money, they are going to give their students whatever grades they need to keep that average. This is already a problem, and this initiative would make it unmanageable. Students will not try as hard, and will learn significantly less as a result.
5. Vocational school programs will virtually collapse.
These programs are vital elements of the higher education system that will collapse if students can receive a free education at a community college. The fact remains that not all students are cut out for college and further academic pursuits. In many cases it isn't even more valuable! Why don't we support other forms of higher education, instead of just making the academic branch free?
6. It will be a government-run program.
This will be brought to you by the same people who brought you the US Postal Service and your state's K-12 education; do you think we're preparing students well enough for college now? What makes you think a free college education will prepare them for the real world any better?
All-in all, this program probably isn't the solution to the education issues in this country. We need to focus on lowering student loan interest rates, improving our K-12 education system, making sure students aren't slipping through existing cracks, and better teacher training. Unfortunately I think this initiative is hogging the precious little focus education receives in the public spotlight, and that could spell disaster in the generations to come.