UNA Students, officials discuss president’s free college plan

President Barack Obama released plans to give students across the U.S. two years of free community college during an appearance in Tennessee Jan. 9.

The White House said it expects 9 million students to participate and save up to $3,800 per year for two years. The Tennessee Promise, a free community college plan starting in the fall, influenced Obama’s proposal.

Director of Admissions Kim Mauldin said she is encouraged the nation is embracing an opportunity to give everyone a chance to go to college.

“If it’s going to work like the initial press release says it is going to, then it will be a funding of last resort,” she said. “Otherwise, a student in high school would have to apply for federal aid. If you receive federal aid, that is what will be applied first. But it’s the next tier of students that may not be full Pell Grant eligible. Those are the ones, if they’re not receiving any other institutional aid, that will receive this assistance.”

Interim Vice President of Enrollment Management Vince Brewton said the plan may hurt UNA in the short term but could help the university in the long run.

“If Northwest-Shoals and Calhoun community colleges benefit from this program, ultimately we would benefit as well,” he said. “We may not benefit the first year, but eventually we will. The more vocational and technical graduates from community colleges we have in the Shoals, the healthier our economy is. And that helps UNA.”

Brewton said UNA is not necessarily worried the proposal will hurt the university’s enrollment.

“We will continue to emphasize the value of the degree that we’re offering,” he said. “There are advantages to coming here and spending four years at a four-year institution in terms of the relationships with faculty you can build and the professional network you can build, which often takes more than two years to do.”

Senior Lesley Scott came to UNA straight out of high school and said she does not regret her decision of choosing a four-year school. She joined SGA her first year at UNA, then the Black Student Alliance and NAACP as a sophomore.

“The benefit of coming to UNA is that you’re getting the full college experience as opposed to going to a community college,” Scott said. “You start out in one place and you can continue to grow in the same environment for four years.”

Brewton said many people do not realize the value of a professional network that UNA and other four-year schools offer.

“If you have a job when you graduate versus looking for a job for six months, that difference is more than the scholarship you got from the federal government to go to a two-year school,” he said.

Mauldin said going to a university for four years instead of going to a community college provides a better opportunity to become educated.

“By nature, four-year universities and colleges can just provide more engagement and more resources,” she said. “There are more opportunities at four-year school but for some students that may not be on their bucket list.”