White House Continues Push to Expand Free Community College

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

The White House is offering $100 million to expand workforce training programs at community colleges, bolstering President Obama's goal of making tuition at community colleges free.

The initiative will award grants through the Labor Department to partnerships between employers, training programs, and community and technical colleges aimed at preparing students for skilled occupations. To qualify for the grants, recipients must extend tuition-free education to unemployed, underemployed, and low-income workers to enter industries that require skilled labor. On Monday, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, announced the program at the Community College of Philadelphia.

"These kinds of partnerships can help tens of thousands of students get the education and skills training they need to succeed in good-paying, middle-class jobs," Biden said. "I've traveled the country and seen first hand that these kinds of programs are preparing students for jobs in industries like IT, health care, cybersecurity, and energy. These are the kind of investments that will allow us to outcompete the world."

President Obama has struggled to win support in Congress for his $60 billion tuition-free plan, the America's College Promise, which he unveiled during his 2015 State of the Union address. However, according to Danielle Douglas-Gabriel of The Washington Post, the President's ideas have been embraced by some states and communities. Almost 30 new programs have been launched since President Obama announced his plan last year, including programs in Oregon, Minnesota, and Rhode Island.

Today, 27 small programs offer free community college, and they account for more than $70 million in public and private investments. The programs serve an estimated 40,000 community college students. For a student to qualify for financial aid, he or she must have graduated from high school, maintain at least a 2.5-grade point average, and complete the federal financial aid application. The tuition-free programs incentivize students to take a full load of courses and are designed to ensure credits are transferable to other schools if students want to earn a bachelor's degree.

Amy Wang of QZ notes that the President's plan differs from the one being pushed by Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. Sen. Sanders, while supporting tuition-free community college, also supports free public university education, which would guarantee students a bachelor's degree at institutions like the University of Madison-Wisconsin and the University of California.

This new intuitive would expand on the work already launched by the Obama administration to reduce the costs of community college and expand access to higher education. The Recovery Act, the massive spending intuitive passed in President Obama's first year to re-energize the American economy, included a $2 billion fund to support partnerships between community college students and nearly 2,500 employers. To date, nearly 300,000 participants are enrolled in the program known as the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College Training Grant Program.

The United States has 1,100 community colleges that educate more than 7 million students, most of whom are minorities, first-generation college students, and low-income students. A comprehensive breakdown of the President's goals and the current initiative can be found at WhiteHouse.gov.

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