President Obama Provides Framework for Two Years of Free Community College

On Friday, President Obama, along with Vice President Biden announced America’s College Promise, a proposal to make two years of community college free for students across the country. The proposal, designed to be a federal-state partnership, was modeled after a similar program in Tennessee, and would cover three quarters of the average cost of community college, with states expected to contribute toward the remaining amount of outstanding tuition.

“For millions of Americans, community colleges are essential pathways to the middle class,” Obama said Friday. 

The White House has stipulated that the two years free community college would only be available to “responsible” students. The requirements of the involved stakeholders—students, community colleges, the states, and federal government—as outlined by President Obama at the event in Tennessee, are as follows: 

  • Students: In order to be eligible for two years of free college, students must “attend community college at least half-time, maintain a 2.5 GPA, and make steady progress toward completing their program.”
  • Community Colleges: According to the proposal, “Community Colleges will be expected to offer programs that are either 1) academic programs that fully transfer credits to local public four-year colleges and universities, or 2) occupational training programs with high graduation rates and lead to in-demand degrees and certificates.”  The proposal also stipulates that community colleges will be required to adopt “evidence-based institutional reforms to improve student outcomes.”
  • Federal Government: The proposal states that the federal government would cover three-quarters of the average cost of community college (tuition and fees).
  • States: Under the proposal, states will serve as partners and be expected to contribute the “remaining funds needed to eliminate the tuition for eligible students.”

“There are no free rides in America--you would have to earn it,” Obama said, emphasizing requirements for students, institutions, and states. 

Under the proposal, if enacted, “two years of college will become as free and universal as high school is today,” he added.

Upon release the proposal quickly garnered both praise and criticism, with some commending the Administration for providing students with the opportunity to attend postsecondary education for free, while others argued that it’s not fully free if it ignores cost of living and that these funds would not necessarily be targeted to the students who need them the most. Dissenting viewpoints aside, it is certainly indisputable that the proposal is historic as it marks the first time there has been an official call for the federal government to provide “free” college. “Financial aid administrators support all efforts at ensuring that no qualified student is denied access to education due to lack of funding,” said NASFAA President Justin Draeger. “This sweeping proposal acknowledges that all students need some postsecondary education and that greater public investment in higher education must be part of that equation. We look forward to working with the administration and lawmakers on these sweeping proposals to ensure that students can achieve their postsecondary dreams.”

As it exists now, the proposal is effectively a framework, laying the groundwork for a more developed plan that will likely be detailed in President Obama’s fiscal year (FY) 2016 budget request in early February. Early reports on cost estimates show the proposal coming in with a nearly $60 billion price tag over 10 years- a clear sign that moving it through Congress will be an uphill battle. Stay tuned to Today’s News updates as more details become known.


Publication Date: 1/12/2015

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