Certificate Programs

Certificate completion should be a condition of free college tuition | Columns

To Sens. Michael Bennett and John Hickenlooper:

As a retired school counselor and owner of a small consulting company, I have helped many students and parents over the last 20 years navigate the complicated journey to post-secondary education. I use the term “post-secondary” as a more inclusive term rather than “college.” I know how complicated that process is and how expensive it is to achieve. Colorado and the United States need an educated workforce. However, educated does not mean a four-year college degree; it means training after high school.

I have read with interest plans for “free” tuition to help students realize their dream of an education beyond high school, but I feel there are too many negatives in those ideas. I would like to propose another. Why not do a loan forgiveness based on completion rather than just attending?

The 2019-2020 average cost of tuition and fees at a public, four-year college in Colorado was $11,084 a year and for a two-year program the cost was $4,620. The average cost of only tuition and fees was $7,493, so for the sake of discussion, let’s use $7,500 as our starting point.

Any student wishing to achieve a certificate or degree (remember that there are many adults who were not able to go to “college” so this should be open to all ages) could borrow up to $7,500 a year. Even students who qualify for federal grants based on income have other expenses that keep them from attending. These expenses can range from food or child care in addition to books and ever increasing housing costs. Consequently, the loan should not be based solely on tuition. This loan would be on record with the school which they choose to attend, and the federal government would pay that school, perhaps into a student account, up to the agreed $7,500. Many students will choose to go to a school out of state or to a private institution, but the loan would be based on a public, in-state cost model. When that student completes the certificate program or degree, his/her school would notify the federal government, and the loan would be forgiven.

I believe that the smaller the bureaucracy, the better the oversight. Consequently, the school would keep track of its students, not the federal government. This would probably necessitate another loan officer for the school, but that could be covered with federal dollars and would more than pay for itself with greater efficiency. In addition, the schools know their students, so if someone needs to attend part-time and the agreed upon time frame changes, the school would be in a better position to extend the date of completion.

There are several states that have “free tuition” for community colleges. These are admirable programs from which there is a great deal to learn. However, according to the research that I have done, most of these programs are based on first-year, full-time students. There is a great need to extend opportunities to those who may not be able to attend full time or want to complete programs started in the past. I realize that the “devil is in the details,” but after working with students for more than 20 years, programs are more successful if there is an incentive to be diligent, and a tremendous sense of pride is gained for a goal accomplished.

Our country needs an educated workforce, but higher education is very expensive to the exclusion of a large part of our population. I believe monetary help for people who desire a post-secondary certificate or degree is worth our tax dollars, but if developing responsible citizens is also our goal, free money just to attend classes is not the answer. Completion just might be.