Like many, we read with great interest about President Obama’s recently announced proposal to offer free community college enrollment nationwide. While we strongly advocate making higher education more accessible to all who wish to pursue it, the low graduation rates at a significant number of these colleges casts a strong shadow of doubt over the soundness of the idea.

Apparently we aren’t the only ones who had raised eyebrows. The Wall Street Journal published an editorial (“The ObamaCollege Plan”) that criticizes the Administration’s proposal. It casts a harsh light on what has been proposed — and on the weak outcomes at all too many of the nation’s community colleges, ultimately leading the WSJ to question the point of steering students in that direction. One of the issues raised is that the “administration won’t apply the [Gainful Employment] rule to community colleges or nonprofit schools.”

We have also questioned why community colleges — or ANY higher education providers for that matter — should be sheltered from Gainful Employment’s reach (see here, here, here and here); it is among our core criticisms of the DOE’s GE rule. In fact, given that the thrust behind President Obama’s proposal for free community college is to expand quality higher educational opportunities to students, it seems illogical that the DOE at the same time is exempting most community college programs from the rule, while including provisions that, as the WSJ notes, “could shut down nearly 1,400 for-profit programs educating 840,000 students.”

The importance of providing quality education programs certainly cannot be understated. However, logic dictates that, to reach such a goal, it would make the most sense to ensure that quality exists across all higher education institutions, without singling out the for-profit sector for punitive and arbitrary rules.Furthermore, as this article in The Chronicle of Higher Education astutely notes, implementing Obama’s free community college proposal, without having a detailed plan as to who would teach the anticipated millions of enrolled students, could undermine the quality of instruction students receive – thereby contradicting the administration’s “commitment” to ensuring quality higher education.

The bottom line? Failing to hold all institutions – including community colleges – to the same standards as for-profit colleges is not only counter-intuitive, but calls into question the administration’s motives for implementing a rule that is ultimately supposed to improve quality and increase the value of an education.

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