BLACK VOICES
01/14/2015 02:26 pm ET Updated Jan 19, 2015

How Obama's Free Community College Proposal Will Impact HBCUs

Last week, President Obama stirred quite a bit of controversy when he announced a plan to make two years of college free for American students who maintain good grades, but some fear that the proposal will undermine historically black colleges and universities.

That won't be the case, University of Pennsylvania professor Marybeth Gasman argued on HuffPost Live on Tuesday. Gasman, who is the director of the Penn Center for Minority-Serving Institutions, said that the proposal would not have a negative effect on black universities.

“I don’t think that this is an attack on HBCUs,” she told host Marc Lamont Hill.

But she added that the plan would definitely create some changes for the historically black college system. With the push for plans like Obama's, which emphasizes performance metrics including a student's GPA, HBCUs are beginning to create more agreements with community colleges to ease the transition between a 2-year college and a 4-year HBCU.

If Obama’s plan is approved by Congress, it would likely facilitate that trend, Gasman said.

“HBCUs, if they want to continue to be viable and lively, especially the non-selective more open enrollment HBCUs, they have to figure out a way to team up with community colleges,” she said. “And I would say other minority-serving institutions that are less selective and four-year are going to have to do that as well.”

Although Gasman said the plan could be seen as a way to “strengthen” less selective HBCUs, she outlined a major caveat. For the plan to work for HBCUS, the federal government will have to redefine its metrics of “success.”

“It cannot use ‘first-time, full-time student’ to define graduation rates if we are going to have a program like this because all these institutions where those students transfer in are not going to get credit for the success with those students, and minority-serving institutions are going to get hurt,” she said.

Watch the full HuffPost Live conversation about President Obama’s free community college proposal here.

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