White House Proposes Free Community College for All

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The White House has announced a new proposal that, according to President Barack Obama, will make community college in the United States “free for everybody who is willing to work for it.”

In a preview of his formal announcement, which Obama filmed aboard Air Force One and posted to Facebook, the president said:

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

Administration officials have yet to release many specifics concerning the proposal, such as how much the program will cost or where that money will come from.  Education Department officials did say that such information would be announced with the president’s budget.

The White House did suggest that if all 50 states were to participate in the America’s College Promise Program, upwards of 9 million students would benefit, saving an average of $3,800 per year for full-time students, which suggests the program could cost well into the billions, writes Kimberly Hefling for ABC News.

“With no details or information on the cost, this seems more like a talking point than a plan,” said Cory Fritz, press secretary for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

Students who wish to participate in the program would be required to maintain a particular minimum grade point average.  In addition, participating schools would need to meet certain academic standards.  When a state opts into the program they would need to put up a portion of the funding, reports Gregory Korte for USA Today.

“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.

According to David Baime, vice president for government relations at the American Association of Community Colleges, the program is an “extraordinary” investment that would reduce the cost of attending community college and “that is a concept that we heartily endorse.”

A scholarship program was signed into law last year by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam that uses lottery funds to offer free community and technical college tuition for two years for high school graduates in the state, according to Douglas Belkin for The Wall Street Journal.

The program initially faced opposition from private colleges and legislators in the state who were worried that it would cause potential students and scholarship dollars from going to four-year schools.  However, Haslam felt the program would increase the number of students who went to college.

The White House program was inspired by the Tennessee Promise scholarship program in addition to a similar program in place in Chicago.