Do Community College Presidents Support Free Community College?

Posted By Eliana Osborn on April 26, 2016 at 9:31 am
Do Community College Presidents Support Free Community College?

It isn’t just presidential candidates talking about free college these days; state after state, plans are being devised to make two-year colleges cost-free for students. Some are billed as scholarships, like Chicago Star for graduates from the area’s public high schools. Others are more like Utah’s new College Promise program to make up the difference between other aid and actual cost.

Inside Higher Ed surveyed community college presidents for a wide-ranging report, including questions about their schools becoming free. The pollsters over at Gallup involved 220 of these leaders; with 1,655 community colleges nationwide, a substantive sample participated in the research. Three areas of focus in questions give an overview of where schools are today and what they see for the future.

Free community college

Thirty-seven percent say they strongly support the idea of free community college, with another 25% mostly agreeing with the concept. Sixty-one percent agree or strongly agree with Democratic proposals for either free or debt-free two-year schooling.

Nearly all agree that the national debate over free community college proposals has been a boon, drawing attention to the financial realities of schools and students. Just 8% disagree or strongly disagree.

When predicting the likelihood of these changes coming about in the next five years, views were more mixed. Presidents were asked if at least one-third of states would adopt free community college on this timeline; 35% agree, 37% disagree, and the final 29% are on the fence.


58% say enrollment has declined on their campuses, primarily because of improved employment numbers. Many believe it is an inevitable flux from many years of steady increases in students. Additionally, about half of college presidents note there is more competition with different education models than in the past, whether that be online academies or competency-based programs.

Graduation rates

Forty-two percent of community college presidents want a national goal graduation rate over 50% and just 5% think the aim should be over 75%. In fact, on average, schools hope to achieve a 47% graduation rate for themselves, and they think 41% is a reasonable national goal. These numbers may be lower than the general public would hope, but they would require growth from current rates.

The survey explains, “Although individual estimates of community college graduation rates vary, some suggest that less than 30 percent of those who enter community college will graduate with an associate degree within two to four years.”

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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