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College & Workforce Readiness

President Obama Unveils New Plan to Make Community College Free

By Lauren Camera — January 08, 2015 2 min read

On Friday, President Barack Obama will propose a new federal-state partnership grant program that would make two years of community college free, allowing students to earn the first half of a bachelor’s degree or earn skills needed for the workforce at no cost.

The president will unveil the proposal, called America’s College Promise, at Pellissippi Community College in Knoxville, Tenn., the last stop on his weeklong, cross-country tour in which he previewed various policy proposals he plans to include in the forthcoming State of the Union address, slated for Jan. 20.

The higher education proposal is modeled, in part, after the Volunteer State’s Tennessee Promise, a program funded by the state lottery that provides tuition to high school graduates for any in-state community college or associate degree program.

In the first year of the Tennessee program, 57,000 students representing almost 90 percent of the state’s high school graduating class applied for the program.

White House officials said Thursday evening that under its proposal approximately 9 million students would be eligible for the program and save an average of $3,800 in tuition. The federal government would contribute 75 percent of the necessary funding while states contribute 25 percent.

The White House first relased details of the plan Thursday evening through a video from the president posted to Facebook.

Additional details of the president’s proposal, including costs and how it will be funded, will be included in his fiscal 2016 budget request, due out sometime in February.

Notably, the president will need congressional approval in the form of legislation in order to make the plan a reality—something that will prove difficult in the new, Republican-controlled Congress where lawmakers are already set on eliminating many of the administration’s education priorities.

“This will take legislation to accomplish,” conceded Cecilia Munoz, White House director of domestic policy, who added that the president hasn’t reached out to members of Congress yet.

Munoz noted, however, that Obama’s preschool development grant program, first unveiled during a State of the Union address in 2013, secured funding in subsequent budgets and that more than 30 states have since increased the number of preschool slots because of it.

“So we’re looking both for action in Congress as well as in state and local governments,” Munoz said. “We’re trying to make two years of community college the norm, they way high school is the norm.”

During his speech, the president also plans to unveil a new technical education program, called the American Technical Training Fund. It would reward programs that have strong employer partnerships and include work-based learning opportunities, provide accelerated training, and are scheduled to accommodate part-time work.

That proposal is also based on a program in place in Tennessee, a state that’s become the darling of the Obama administration’s education agenda.

White House officials pitched the new proposals as building on the various investments the president has demanded in higher education, including an increase in Pell Grant funding for low- and middle-income students; the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which reimburses families up to $10,000 for four years of college tuition; and the income-contingent student loan repayment plan, which pegs borrowers’ repayments to 10 percent of their income.

You can read more about both proposals here.

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