Obama State of the Union Touches on Free Community College


In his final State of the Union address, President Barack Obama discussed a number of education-related proposals, with a special focus on increasing college access and affordability.

The speech began with efforts he thought all sides would be in agreement on, including the need for an education to get a well-paying job, adding that the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act was a good start to increasing early childhood education, high school graduation rates, and the number of graduates in particular fields like engineering. Obama touted the importance of studying the disciplines by connecting STEM fields to well-paying jobs.

Obama also mentioned increasing Internet access for all students across the country to support broader education efforts.

In December, the administration reported the national high school graduation rate reached an all-time high of 82% for the 2013-14 school year — a point the President was particularly proud of.

Obama went on to say that progress still needed to be made toward a universal pre-kindergarten program, ensuring all students receive the hands-on computer science and math courses they need to succeed, and recruiting high-quality teachers.

The President then discussed another proposal, referred to as “America’s College Promise,” that would offer two years of a community college education at no cost for students who enroll at least part-time and maintain a 2.5 grade point average or higher.  Those students must also make progress within a degree program or transfer to a four-year school.

“Forty per cent of our college students choose community college,” Obama said. “Some are young and starting out. Some are older and looking for a better job. Some are veterans and single parents trying to transition back into the job market. Whoever you are, this plan is your chance to graduate ready for the new economy, without a load of debt.”

Obama went on to say the proposal would be a bipartisan effort, although he did acknowledge that Congress, currently under the control of Republicans, may not approve of the estimated cost of $60 billion over 10 years.  To that end, the President pushed the plan as a fundamental cultural shift.

Some, such as teachers union leaders, agreed with the President, saying they applaud his vision and are encouraged by his proposals for the “possibility of a brighter future for our country,” adding that the speech reflects their goal of an equal education for all students no matter where they live, writes Maureen Sullivan for Forbes.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, pushed for the support of candidate Hillary Clinton, who the AFT is backing in the current election, saying the country needs a leader that will embody the values represented by President Obama.  The group stands in support of Clinton to ensure the needs of “everyday Americans” are met while in the White House.

Meanwhile, Republican front-runner Donald Trump tweeted that the speech was “boring, rambling, and non-substantive,” adding, “New leadership fast!”