Obama-Backed Bill for Free Community College Brought to Congress


Senator Tammy Baldwin and representative Bobby Scott have introduced the America's College Promise Act bill which, if passed, will allow first-time students to attend community and technical colleges free for two years.

Even though the bill is backed by president Obama, who had earlier this year made a proposal to offer US students free access to community college, some say it is unlikely to pass. President Obama talked of his free community college vision in his February 2015 State of Union speech. He emphasized the importance of giving young people the "chance to graduate ready for the new economy, without a load of debt."

Sen. Baldwin, Rep. Scott and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan reinforced that having an educated workforce is the key to making the U.S more competitive in the global economy. The bill will serve as an affordable bridge for many students who want to continue their study in higher education with the pursuit of a bachelor's degree.

The bill is part of a broader attempt to help young Americans continue their education without being overburdened with student debt. Sen. Baldwin said in a conference call that:

 "We all believe that every student in America deserves a fair shot at a higher education and a path toward the middle class."

The America's College Promise Act of 2015 provides $3 of federal aid for every dollar a state gives to education as a way to waive college tuition. More importantly, the bill helps cover a large percentage of tuition fees for low-income students that attend minority institutions. The bill partially covers tuition fees for the first or last two years of college. The bill, if passed, would benefit over 9 million students.

Secretary Duncan said in a conference announcing the bill that it doesn't offer "free rides" and that to be eligible students must maintain a college GPA of 2.5, attend classes and make steady and responsible progress toward graduation.

To be qualified, a student has to be attending college for the first time either as a full-time or part-time student and exhibit satisfactory academic progress. Should the bill pass, on average a community college student will save $3,800 per year of education.

The plan will cost the federal government three times the Obama estimate of $30 billion over the next ten years. Quartz reports that $80 billion will cover about 75% of community college tuition and the other $10 billion will go toward helping low income students enrolled in four-year, minority-serving institutions including historically black and Hispanic colleges.

During a recent speech at the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse, President Obama said:

"Now, in an economy that's constantly changing, we've also got to give every American the chance to earn the skills they need to stay competitive. . . . That's why we should make community college free for responsible students – like Tammy Baldwin is introducing in the United States Senate. No middle-class family should be priced out of the education that they need."

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