Riedel: Intrigued, but cautious of Obama’s college proposal

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 15, 2015

President Barack Obama is proposing two free years of community college for American students.

Lurleen B. Wallace Community College President Dr. Herb Riedel said college officials support anything that will help its students.

“That’s our primary objective,” he said. “W e don’t know if it’s going to get passed.”

Under the proposed plan, three-fourths of the cost would be covered by federal money with the rest being picked up at the state level.

It is estimated that the program would cost nearly $70 billion.

Riedel said currently 70 percent of LBWCC students receive funding from the pell grant program, which is means based.

“The new program would not be based on family income and would be available to everyone,” he said. “It would be considered a type of entitlement.”

Riedel said like with any federal money allocated, colleges would be required to conform to some type of performance measures.

Riedel said the program would come with more accountability for students.

“A requirement for students would be to be enrolled at least half time and maintain a 2.5 GPA,” he said.

Riedel said he did a little investigating and found that 35 percent of LBWCC students would be left out with that requirement.

“The Pell grant program required students to have a 2.0 GPA,” he said. “We have students who struggle due to family circumstances. Some of our students hold two jobs and we have single parents.”

Riedel said it’s also important to note that tuition is only a fraction of what it costs to educate students.

“It’s only a third,” he said. “Colleges would need to accommodate. Our funding has been cut 37 percent since 2007. Therefore it’s an ongoing challenge to maintain our facilities. We really need to have the resources available to provide educational resources to our students.”

Riedel said he is intrigued by the program, but he is cautious.

“The question the American public is going to have to decide – this needs to be a national decision – on whether higher education is considered a public benefit or more of a private benefit,” he said.

The community college initiative has the potential to draw millions of new students throughout the country to the community college world.

“We certainly want to get our population educated,” he said. “Let’s say something passes, and more people attend LBWCC. Then, we will have to be prepared.”

Riedel said that with enrollment declines over the last three years, LBWCC could accommodate a 10-20 percent increase in its student body.

Still, the college has cut back its faculty, so Riedel said hiring would be a must.

“Employees would need to have a 15 percent salary increase to be back at the 2007 levels, when you factor in cost of living,” he said. “Anything more than that 10-20 percent increase, and we would have to look at facilities,” he said.

Still, Riedel said they want education to be accessible and they want to play a part in it.