Recently, President Obama unveiled his plans to provide free community college to anyone who wants to work for it. This would effectively expand existing grants already offered to low-income students and make education more affordable to middle- and upper-income individuals who currently may not be eligible for government programs.  

The ultimate goal of students is not simply to get an education, but to get the training to be able to secure a high-paying job and a promise of a better future. A higher degree and greater skill set don’t automatically translate into employment opportunities. loyment for these students after they complete their courses, if they do so at all.

While I applaud the White House for any effort to make higher education more accessible, the bigger question is not how Washington will fund this program, but rather if it will accomplish its goal. It is doing something, but will it be effective?

The ultimate goal of students is not simply to get an education, but to get the training to be able to secure a high-paying job and a promise of a better future. A higher degree and greater skill set don’t automatically translate into employment opportunities. loyment for these students after they complete their courses, if they do so at all.

The administration wrongly believes that free community college will automatically provide opportunities that lead to “better jobs, better wages, better benefits” for those on the lower economic rungs. Although it makes for good publicity, this proposal addresses the wrong issue. 

Despite Washington's belief that the major obstacle to higher education today is debt, the real problem is that the private sector, the driving force for creating jobs, has been left out of the equation. Obama's proposal does nothing to address the need for industry to provide employment for these students after they complete their courses, if they do so at all.

As the New York Times pointed out, community college is already free for many students, thanks to Pell grants and state aid. While many students are taking advantage of the programs offered, few are completing their education. 

The U.S. Department of Education calculates that only 18 percent of students complete their two-year degree within three years, and schools with the best reported rates are reaching only 30 percent to 40 percent.

What we need is a system that focuses on a better outcome. These are real people and families that are suffering, who see no guarantee that their investment in a two-year degree will lead to a better life. We need to eliminate the obstacles and create a path that is clear so that individuals can move up the economic ladder to where the promised results materialize.

The ultimate goal of students is not simply to get an education, but to get the training to be able to secure a high-paying job and a promise of a better future. A higher degree and greater skill set don’t automatically translate into employment opportunities. 

Government and colleges don't dictate jobs. Business does, yet for some reason it has not been invited to the bargaining table. 

Schools must tear down the wall that separates education from industry, and government must recognize that our global competitiveness is inherently tied to our ability to have a trained workforce that meets the needs of the business sector. Acknowledging this symbiotic relationship and collaborating to create a three-way partnership among colleges, industry and government is the only solution.

The late Jack Kemp, R-NY, popularized the concept of the free enterprise zone, and this could be applied to education as well. Great community colleges exist, such as Santa Barbara City College, Wake Tech Community College and the Lake Area Technical Institute. We have a number of examples of junior colleges effectively serving their communities and doing an excellent job. 

After identifying those successful programs where higher education and business have established a working partnership, government incentives could help create job growth within the region, patterned after urban free enterprise zones to stimulate economic development. This is the model we should be developing — not just for community colleges, but all institutions of higher learning.

Wage growth is not happening for workers in lower-skilled jobs, and education is only part of the solution. Establishing successful partnerships between industry and education will create the link between workers and employers to produce the right outcomes so that individuals and families can change their future. Bringing in government to create incentives to foster these partnerships will produce the desired long-term solutions.

Higher education has never been about debt — it has been about creating value. Such value takes the form of an education for students that prepares them with relevant skills and training that are in demand; a labor pool for industry that is prepared to hit the ground running to help them grow their businesses; and a workforce that allows the nation to remain competitive in a global marketplace.

Jayson Boyers is vice president and managing director, Division of Continuing Professional Studies (National Online Division) at Champlain College.