President Barack Obama made a trip to Michigan in an effort to create a renewed push for free community college, as well as an increase of on-the-job training, all as part of the new College Promise campaign.
To further their efforts, the Obama Administration announced that the Department of Labor will be awarding $175 million in American Apprenticeship Grants to public and private institutions that have promised to implement new workforce training programs. The grants will go toward the apprenticeship of over 34,000 new students throughout the next five years in high-growth and high-tech industries such as construction, transportation and energy.
“Whether it is a bachelor’s degree, an associates degree, a journeyman’s card from an apprenticeship program, having a credential above and beyond your high school diploma: that’s the surest ticket to the middle class,” said Mr. Obama in remarks at at Macomb Community College.
Obama went on to discuss the need for increased access to community colleges, saying, “No kid should be priced out of a college education.” He went on to introduce the launch of a new advertising campaign, called Heads Up America, that will lobby to make two years of community college free of charge, writes Byron Tau for The Wall Street Journal. Public service announcements will be created for the effort featuring students, community college alumni and celebrities.
The first mention of his $60 billion plan to make community college free for all qualifying students came in January. Students who enroll in school at least half-time, have a GPA of 2.5 or higher, and work toward completing a degree program would qualify for the plan.
Obama previously visited the college in 2009, arguing that federal education policies needed to focus more on community colleges.
A plan similar to the one Obama outlined is currently in place as a statewide program in Tennessee, called the Tennessee Promise. The program offers tuition-free community college or technical school education to all qualifying high school graduates, many of whom are the first in their families to attend college. The scholarships, which cost between $12 and $13 million, are paid through the state’s lottery, rather than by taxes.
Critics of the program argue that offering the scholarships may not be the best use of funds for the state. Instead, they suggest targeting aid for the lowest-income students rather than creating a universal free-college program.
However, supporters of the program maintain that the program is worth the cost because it increases students’ likelihood to attend college and sends an empowering message to students.
“We’ve seen a conversation change in Tennessee about going to college,” says Mike Krause, executive director of Tennessee Promise. “A lot of students count themselves out of higher education,” because they think it’s not affordable, he says. But the Promise “made sure the students understood … it was absolutely within their reach and created a wider door of access.”