Paul Mulshine's article attacks Obama's claim that only $60B will cover ten years whereas multiplying says $60B will cover costs for only one year. Is it economically correct to just be able to multiply 7.1M students by $7700 average per year? At first glance I think the President's program officials require a lot more calculations and planning but then the order of magnitude difference confuses me.
I don't live in the US, but I believe this may be a realistic figure due to several factors:
- Many of the community college students likely already have all sorts of charitable funding supporting their tuition.
- Some states actually already have some tuition-free community college programs.
- The tuition is probably much lower than what your linked article suggests. See this table (caveat: Haven't double-checked the veracity). Mulshine's figure seems to correspond to the "tuition average". But if the funding is for in-state public colleges, the number is about half of that. And that's for when you pay full tuition.
So, less money to cover and starting from some funding already going towards tuition coverage. Now it's true that the other sources of funding could dry up theoretically, but maybe they won't because of, I dunno, some kind of matching requirements or other mechanisms. Otherwise you could always say there's some lowballing like @user438 suggests.
Have you heard of companies submitting lowball bids in order to get a contract, and then - once the tender is committed and can't easily replace them - start submitting "cost overruns" and similar folderol?
This isn't essentially different; governments can be just as corrupt as private industry (if not more so). Once the program is up and running, and has developed a constituency of people who rely on it, then all further funding deemed necessary to keep it running will just have to come from somewhere, or risk alienating said constituency. Eventually it may even become yet another "third rail" that no politician will ever dare to touch for fear of being voted out of office.
See also: Social Security, the DoD budget, PPACA, corporate tax breaks, etc.