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Not enough details in free college plan

First Lady Jill Biden is reviving an idea, hoping a rebuilding of the economy during her husband’s administration will include free access to community college. She’s right, of course, that education and training will be essential both to digging out of the slump created by the pandemic. But her push is light on specifics.

“We have to get this done. And we have to do it now. That’s why we’re going to make sure that everyone has access to free community college and training programs,” she said during a virtual legislative summit hosted by the Association of Community College Trustees.

One has to wonder how she and her husband, President Joe Biden, plan to pay for all that. Average annual tuition and fees at a community college cost $3,730 last year.

So what is the Biden administration proposing? Do we want the community and technical colleges to become part of the public school system? Given some of the failings of the public schools, that might not be the best idea.

A good place to look for an example of how local residents can stay engaged with their community college is in Steubenville, at Eastern Gateway Community College. Graduates of area high schools who are residents of Jefferson County and who had at least a 2.5 grade-point average can attend the first two years of community college with no tuition fees, thanks to the Horizon Grant.

That program is not funded by the government — money comes from a tax levy that Jefferson County voters have approved many times. Students still are responsible for covering the costs of books and fees, but at least they can be relieved of the burden of also having to pay tuition. And, as EGCC officials have said many times, that break can often be the difference between someone being able to receive the education needed to start down the path toward a career and having to face the difficult task of having to find work with little or no training.

Lawmakers must ask a lot of questions, should this plan ever reach them.

Community colleges “are our most powerful engine of prosperity,” Biden said. Perhaps so. But as wonderful as the idea sounds, the devil is in the details — and right now, we don’t have many.

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