Last week, President Barack Obama outlined the specifics of his plan to provide two years of tuition-free education to community college students — a program which could affect student enrollment at the University.

The plan, expected to cost the an estimated $60 billion over 10 years, will be funded by closing tax loopholes and increased taxation for high-earning tax brackets. The federal government will pay for three-quarters of the program and the states will pay the rest.

Additionally, the proposal includes certain stipulations for eligible students, including having a GPA of 2.5 or higher and be enrolled at least half time. Community colleges must also fulfill several conditions. Their academic programs must be eligible for transfer to local four-year institutions or they must have high graduation rates in career and technical programs.

According to the White House, should the proposal be implemented in all states, around 9 million students would annually save approximately $3,800 each.

Higher education officials have identified two potential impacts of the plan: a boost in the number of community college students and fluctuations in the transfer rate between four-year institutions and community colleges.

Jason Morgan, director of government relations at Washtenaw Community College, said the plan could potentially increase the number of community college students, but noted that it is still just a proposal.

“Our first impression is that the plan sounds extremely positive,” Morgan said. “As we learn more details we’ll hopefully learn how, exactly, it is going to impact community colleges.”

Along with increasing the number of community college students overall, many students currently choose to finish their degree at a four-year institution after spending several years at a community college, meaning the proposed reform could have implications for four-year institutions like the University.

Michael Boulus, executive director of the President’s Council, State Universities of Michigan, said the plan could encourage potential students to enroll in community colleges rather than immediately enroll in four-year institutions.

“I would assume it would,” he said. “Just the simple dynamics of having a guaranteed free first two years of educations, assuming that the 60 credits would transfer.”

Education Prof. Peter Bahr noted that though there could be a trend of students choosing community colleges, the effect probably wouldn’t be significant for four-year institutions given the great imbalance in tuition costs that already exists between the two options, which determines college choice for many students.

“I think we will see somewhat more students in the community colleges for the first two years, but I don’t think it will be an enormously greater number of students because community colleges are already substantially less expensive than public four-year institutions,” Bahr said.

Boulus said he thought the number of transfer students from community colleges to four-year institutions would likely to increase. However, he noted that he would like to see the plan go even further than two years of free community college.

“Frankly, it ought to be a free two years regardless of what post-secondary institution you attend, whether it be the two year or the four year,” he said.

Bahr agreed the implementation of the proposal could potentially increase the number of transfer students.

He said the proposal provided a good incentive for institutions to work on changing their student transfer policies and establish clear agreements between four-year institutions and community colleges.

“There is the aspect of which of the credits will even count as credits at the four-year institutions,” he said. “But then there is the more complex challenge of which course at the community college has a parallel at the four-year institution.”

Morgan also acknowledged that transfer policies needed to be easier for students to understand, though he pointed out the Michigan Transfer Agreement, which ensures that universities accept certain number of credits from community colleges.

He noted that many students who come to WCC already know they want to go to the University, which has a specialized transfer process for WCC students, and therefore the school can advise them on which courses to take so credits can transfer.

“However the challenge, that there isn’t a solution for at this point, is that not every student comes into the community college knowing instantly that they want to transfer to a university afterwards,” Morgan said.

University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said it was too soon to speculate the effect the proposal would have on the University. He noted that the University has programs that work with community colleges to facilitate transferring.

Whether or not the White House’s plan will pass a GOP-controlled House and Senate is also unclear.

Boulus said under the current circumstances, there does not appear to be Congressional support and the proposal probably won’t be taken up for vote.

However, Morgan, who met with various members of Congress and members of the Department of Education this week, said he came away with the impression that the goal wasn’t simply to get the proposal passed.

“The reason … is to start a national dialogue and a conversation about how do we support community colleges and get students in the door of higher education,” he said. “The goal is not just to pass this. The goal is to throw out there something really big and see if we can get something small

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