Obama Spells Out Plan for Free Community College for All
Talk about big New Year’s Resolutions. On January 9, President Obama expanded upon his initiative to offer two years of free community college to all Americans in a speech at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee.
“What matter is effort and merit--that’s the promise of America. How we deliver on that is making sure that our education system works on behalf of every person who lives here,” Obama told a crowded auditorium.
If approved by Congress, his free community college initiative could help nine million US students save $3,800 in tuition costs per year. The federal government would cover 75% of the cost, and states would cover the remaining 25 percent.
By making his announcement in the Volunteer State, Obama highlighted the importance of a bipartisan effort behind the initiative. In 2014, 50,000 high school seniors--more than 75% of the state’s 12th graders--signed up for Tennessee’s Promise, a program started by Republican Governor Bill Haslam which offers two years of free community college tuition to graduating seniors. Obama’s nationwide proposal would extend the promise beyond high school seniors to nontraditional students as well. The funding would cover the first two years for any student who attends school at least half-time and maintains a 2.5 GPA at a community college that fully transfers credits to four-year institutions or provides occupational training certificates.
In his speech, Obama highlighted several of his administration’s other efforts to expand access to education, including the ConnectED initiative, which plans to bring high-speed broadband to 99% of America’s students in the next four years and provide more professional development for teachers.
“Community colleges are one of the most direct avenues to the middle class,” said Vice President Joe Biden on Friday. He emphasized the importance of community college degrees for nontraditional students, including single parents and veterans, and spoke to the history of education in America, as the US was the first nation to mandate 12 years of education for all citizens. He explained, if six out of ten jobs will require training beyond a high school degree by 2020, “12 years [of education] is not enough, any more than eight years was not enough in 1919.”
The proposal for free community college has sparked controversy, as some opponents argue that it benefits wealthier students over those in need. Especially since Pell Grants often cover tuition, room and board and lost wages can often pose the larger barrier to low-income community college students.
In his address, the President was hopeful about bipartisan support, pointing to the free community college initiatives by both Tennessee Republican Governor Haslam and Democrat Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel. Obama stated that the proposal, which will be a major focus of his State of the Union address on January 20, will go to Congress in a few weeks.