Free community college proposed in Legislature; not likely in 2016. National debate on expanding postsecondary education.

A group of lawmakers has proposed free tuition for community and technical colleges. President Obama made tuition-free community college a part of his State of the Union message last year and continues to promote it. The Seattle Times reports legislative sponsors recognize it’s a long shot in a short session.

In announcing the proposal, Democratic state Sens. David Frockt and Pramila Jayapal, both of Seattle, acknowledged they don’t know where the money would come from. Nonpartisan legislative staff has projected the costs at $94.4 million to $105.1 million for fiscal 2017

“We’re going to need to make sure we have that discussion in the context of a budget that is substantial,” Jayapal said last week, noting the price tag is high for a legislative session dealing with a supplemental budget.

We wrote about the challenges associated with successful transition from community colleges to four-year degrees. And we noted that for many community and technical college students a four-year degree is not the objective. A lot of good jobs require postsecondary training and certification other than a bachelor’s degree.

Discussion of how best to expand postsecondary education have come to the forefront of many state legislatures. Stateline offers a good overview.  

“The pressure on higher ed budgets is going to continue. So the question is, how do states navigate that?” said Andrew Kelly, director of the Center on Higher Education Reform at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a right-leaning think tank in Washington, D.C.

Rather than blockbuster new investments, expect 2016 to bring tuition freezes, tweaks to scholarship programs, and policies that push institutions to do more with existing funding. Even ambitious-sounding changes, such as eliminating tuition for community college students, likely will be targeted to limit state spending.

Read the whole thing for examples from around the nation and a nice nod to Washington.

Washington state proved last year that tuition can go down if states spend enough money. The state increased higher education funding so much that tuition at public institutions dropped by 5 percent. As Stateline has reported, Washington’s public universities will reduce tuition even more this year.

But few other states have the money — or the inclination — to make that kind of investment.

For more on the pros and cons of tuition-free community colleges read this yea-nay in the Wall Street Journal and this skeptical take from The Brookings Institution.

As we have noted many times

Education expands opportunity. By 2020, 70 percent of Washington jobs will require postsecondary education or training. Preparing our students for these opportunities requires high-quality education at every level.

The debate on how to achieve that critical objective cannot be more timely. We cannot afford a misstep.