Ben Carson Strongly Dislikes President Obama's Community College Plan

May 5th 2015

ATTN: Staff

Dr. Ben Carson, who announced his candidacy for president on Monday, said in an interview in February that he does not support free community college because middle class students should be able to work their way through college.

"The most indigent people in our society already are eligible for Pell Grants. So we're not even talking about them. We're talking about the middle class and above," Carson said the interview embedded below. "What ever happened to working and working your way through? Is there anything wrong with that? I don't think so. I think we need to start emphasizing these things again. It builds character. It builds experience."

The problem is that working your way through college is not as easy as Carson implies. It's not that young people are too lazy to work their way through college; it's that high tuition and stagnant wages have made it extremely difficult:

Paying for College in 1978 vs. Paying for College Now

How Much You Need To Work To Cover Tuition in 1978 vs. Now

Posted by ATTN: on Friday, April 3, 2015

Yes, in the 1970s, when Carson was attending college and medical school, it may have been possible. A year's tuition at an in-state public university in 1978 was $688 (in that year's dollars, not adjusted for inflation), which is equal to 260 hours working at the 1978 minimum wage (less than seven 40-hour work weeks). On the other hand, a year's tuition at an in-state public university in 2011 was $7,701, which is equal to 1,062 hours working at the 2011 minimum wage (nearly twenty-seven 40-hour work weeks). That does not leave enough time to work and study. The result is that students like Samuel Homer-Williams (profiled in the video below), are forced to drop out of school so they can earn more money. Homer-Williams has been in and out of school at a college in South Los Angeles:

Why Working At Burger King Is Still Not Enough to Afford College

Meet Homer. He works at Burger King. He wants to #FightFor15 so he can afford community college, which his currently salary does not allow.

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That's why free community college is so important. It serves as an important bridge for poor and middle-class students to prepare themselves to be employed in a 21st century economy. Community colleges put students on the path to employment in two ways. They can serve as a stepping stone to a bachelor's degree at a four-year college. Or they can provide students with a two-year program that's designed for certain careers like nursing or manufacturing. The president's plan, for instance, also calls for awards of funding to colleges with programs that are particularly good at helping students find technical jobs.

Carson clearly values the importance of higher education. But he should also embrace the reality that working oneself through college is no longer a simple option.