AT WHAT COST? Obama Proposes Free Community College For All

WASHINGTON – President Obama on Thursday proposed making community college free “for everybody who is willing to work for it.”

In a video posted on Facebook, the president previewed his plan, which will be formally announced during a trip to Tennessee Friday.

“It’s not for kids,” Obama said. “We also have to make sure that everybody has the opportunity to constantly train themselves for better jobs, better wages, better benefits.”

The proposal drew an immediate critical response from House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who said, “with no details or information on the cost, this seems more like a talking point than a plan.”

According to a White House press release, federal funding would cover three-quarters of the average cost of community college and states that choose to participate will be expected to contribute the remaining funds necessary. 

Students are required to maintain a 2.5 GPA while in college, and must make steady progress toward completing their program in order to have their tuition eliminated, according to the press release.

“Put simply, what I’d like to do is to see the first two years of community college free for everybody who is willing to work for it,” the president said.

The White House expects an estimated 9 million students to participate in the program and each could save $3,800 a year on tuition.

Last year, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law a scholarship program that provides free community and technical college tuition for two years to the state’s high school graduates. About 58,000 of the state’s roughly 62,000 seniors have applied to participate this fall

Excerpted from PoliticoPresident Barack Obama will need the approval of Congress to realize his proposal for making two years of community college free for students.

So far, that plan doesn’t have an official price tag — other than “significant,” according to White House officials. If all 50 states participate, the proposal could benefit 9 million students each year and save students an average of $3,800 in tuition, the White House said.

But administration officials insisted on a call with reporters Thursday evening that “this is a proposal with bipartisan appeal.”

Case in point: Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, whose brainchild Tennessee Promise program strongly influenced Obama’s proposal. Beginning this year, any high school graduate in that state is eligible for two years of free community college tuition under the Tennessee Promise.

Obama, alongside Vice President Joe Biden and second lady Jill Biden, will tout his proposal dubbed “America’s College Promise” during a visit Pellissippi Community College in Knoxville, Tenn., on Friday.

“What I’d like to do is to see the first two years of community college free for everybody who’s willing to work for it,” Obama said in a White House video posted Thursday evening. “It’s something we can accomplish, and it’s something that will train our workforce so that we can compete with anybody in the world.”

The president’s proposal would make two years of community college free for students of any age with a C+ average who attend school at least half-time and who are making “steady progress” toward their degree.

To be eligible, community colleges would have to offer academic programs that fully transfer credits to local public four-year colleges and universities or training programs with high graduation rates that lead to in-demand degrees and certificates. Community colleges must also adopt “promising and evidence-based institutional reforms” to improve student outcomes.

Federal funding would cover three-quarters of the average cost of community college, and Obama is asking states to pick up the rest of the tab — assuming Congress agrees to the plan in the first place.

“I hope we’ve got the chance to make sure that Congress gets behind these kinds of efforts to make sure that even as we rebound and grow in 2015, that it benefits everybody and not just some,” the president said in the video.

Obama said his online announcement was “a little preview” of his plans for the Jan. 20 State of the Union address. The cost details will be in the president’s 2016 budget proposal, White House director Cecilia Muñoz said.

Muñoz said Obama aims to make college “the norm in the same way high school is the norm now.”

The Tennessee Promise idea has, needless to say, caught on. And Education Undersecretary Ted Mitchell said on Thursday’s call that he hopes Obama’s plan will encourage more states to start similar programs.

But the idea is not without critics.

The Institute for College Access and Success, which is typically in step with the Obama administration, called the proposal “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” Among the problems, TICAS says, is that the more substantial costs of college — living expenses, textbooks and transportation — are typically left out of the deal.

And Bryce McKibben, a former Association of Community College Trustees policy analyst who recently became a policy adviser to Democrats on the Senate education committee, has noted potential flaws. For instance, the program could end up doing more for less needy students than those who need it the most, because low-income applicants may already be covered by Pell grants and other federal aid. Keep reading

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