Obama Proposes Free Community College Program - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Obama Proposes Free Community College Program

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WASHINGTON (AP) - The White House on Thursday announced a proposal that President Barack Obama said would make community college "free for everybody who is willing to work for it." But administration officials provided no details about the program's costs or where the money would come to pay for it.

Obama planned to formally announce the plan Friday at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee. He gave a preview in a videotaped message shot aboard Air Force One and posted on Facebook.

"It's not just for kids," Obama said. "We also have to make sure that everybody has the opportunity to constantly train themselves for better jobs, better wages, better benefits."

Obama provided few specifics, and White House and Education Department officials on a conference call with reporters Thursday evening said the funding details would come out later with the president's budget.

The White House did say that if all states participated, that nine million students could benefit - saving on average $3,800 in tuition per year for a full-time student. That means the program could cost in the billions of dollars. In a Republican-led Congress, the proposal likely faces a tough legislative fight to be passed.

"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.

Under the proposal, participating students would be expected to maintain a modest grade point average and participating schools would have to meet certain academic requirements. States would opt in to the program and put up a fraction of the funding.

"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.

David Baime, vice president for government relations at the American Association of Community Colleges, called the plan an "extraordinary" investment. He said the essence of the proposal is to reduce the cost of attending community college and "that is a concept that we heartily endorse."

Last year, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law a scholarship program using lottery funding that provides free community and technical college tuition for two years to the state's high school graduates.

The scholarship program faced opposition in Tennessee from some of the state's private colleges and legislators concerned that the program could potentially divert students and scholarship dollars from four-year schools. Haslam has said the program will increase the pool of students going to college.

The White House said its proposal was inspired by the Tennessee plan and another similar program in Chicago.


While Obama's announcement is only the beginning of a process toward free community college, local community colleges are already thinking about how it will effect their students, and potential students of the future. 


Unlike bigger universities, community colleges tend to have graduates that remain in the area after graduation, and because of this community college directors said it will bring a better trained workforce to local communities which ends up making it more attractive to businesses. 


Helen Gress, the vice president of Del Tech's campus activities board and student herself, said she is excited about Obama's idea.


"I'm 50 years old, I'm coming back to school," she said. "There are a lot of people in my position who want to get back into school who want to benefit themselves and their families but they cant because of financial reasons."

Dr. Ileana Smith is the Vice President and Campus Director at Del Tech and she said it would expand their student base.

"It's a great idea to provide access to education and that's a game changer in people's lives so by all means," she said. "The more that you can educate our citizens the stronger we are as a country."

But of course the question arises, how will this affect people who aren't looking to go to community college? Wor-Wic Community College President Murray Hoy noted the economic impact.

"Somebody has to pay obviously so there is a tax consequence, who's going to pay and obviously it's tax payers, is this an appropriate use of taxpayers money?" he question. "I would argue that it is."

Another factor local colleges are looking into is helping students maintain the 2.5 GPA the program would require.

"We're going to have to put some additional services in place to help many of these students because not everybody is ready."

Something interesting to note is there already is a similar program in Delaware called "SEED" which provides a free ride to Del Tech for high school graduates who have a 2.5 GPA and "stay out of trouble." This is a state run program, so if legislation passes for Obama's proposal, school officials said it would financially help Delaware.



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