Community College Presidents Overwhelmingly Support Obama’s Tuition-Free Initiative

By Charlotte Etier, Research Analyst

On Thursday, Inside Higher Ed (IHE) hosted a webinar to review the findings of their recent survey with Gallup. The first of its kind, this study of Community College Presidents at associate degree-granting institutions aimed to understand how they perceive and address the challenges facing two-year institutions now and in the future. Led by IHE editors Scott Jaschik and Doug Lederman, the webinar highlighted results around President Obama’s free community college plan, the “skills gap,” for-profit competition, and pathways to degree completion. 

Distributed in early 2015 the survey and subsequent study addressed a number of questions, including:

  • Do community college presidents support the Obama administration’s free community college tuition proposal?
  • What effects are the focus on degree completion having on academically at-risk students?
  • What impact are for-profit institutions having on enrollment at community colleges?
  • Is there a “skills gap” and is there funding in place to address it?

Jaschik and Lederman shared additional data from a survey of all college presidents that showed, while community college presidents were excited about the administration’s free community college plan, many other others were not. Just below half of public baccalaureate and master’s institutions believed it would decrease their enrollments, as well as just less than half of private doctoral/master’s institutions and 37 percent of private baccalaureate institutions. When asked whether are in support of the plan, an overwhelming majority of private doctoral/master’s and baccalaureate institutions said “no,” 70 percent and 60 percent respectively. The results on both of these points were in stark contrast to community college presidents, with only one percent indicating it would decrease their enrollment, and 84 percent supporting the plan.

Additional findings from the study’s 213 respondents included:

  • Even if supported by federal funds, community college presidents are skeptical about the feasibility of free community college coming to their state.
  • About four in 10 (41 percent) strongly disagree or disagree that increased degree completion rates nationally are attributable to the push by policymakers and foundation leaders to promote college completion.
  • For-profit institutions are generally not viewed as a threat to enrollment at community colleges.
  • About three-quarters (77 percent) of community college presidents view the “skills gap” as a serious problem in their local community.

The webinar highlighted many state and local experiments on free tuition, such as those underway at Harper College and Community College of Philadelphia, as well as the ongoing  conversation currently taking place around whether the president’s proposal should be put into place just at two-year institutions or whether it’s something that could translate to all public higher education institutions. NASFAA will continue to share updates on Obama’s free community college plan as they become available.


Publication Date: 5/29/2015

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