Obama Proposes Free Community College for Students ‘Willing to Work for It’

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Think of how much more affordable the college experience could be if students could spend their first two years at a community college without paying for tuition. President Barack Obama has unveiled a plan that would make that possible for many more students.

After teasing his free-college proposal, dubbed “America’s College Promise,” on social media sites Thursday, Obama announced his plan Friday at Pellissippi State Community College in Tennessee. According to CNN Money, Obama didn’t select a Tennessee community college by accident.

“America’s College Promise” is modeled after a Tennessee program (called “Tennessee Promise”), which covers the cost of community college tuition not covered by grants and scholarships. It also requires the student to have a mentor, perform eight hours of community service per term, and maintain a 2.0 GPA.

“Community colleges should be free for those willing to work for it, not a privilege reserved for a few,” Obama said during his Tennessee speech.

Obama said his plan, which would cover two years of tuition, could help as many as 9 million students attend community college each year, if all 50 states participate. It would save full-time students about $3,800 per year, the White House said.

But it comes with a hefty price tag, The New York Times reports. It would cost the federal government about $60 billion over the next decade, which could cover about three-quarters of the program’s cost. The remaining balance would need to be covered by the states.

The Times said:

Officials declined to say how the Obama administration proposes to pay for the federal share of the program. But one White House official, who discussed the program on condition of anonymity, said Mr. Obama’s budget, which will be delivered in the next several weeks, will include “new proposals” to pay for the program.

Not surprisingly, Obama’s proposal has been met with some criticism, the Times said. U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said taking his home state’s model and implementing it nationwide isn’t a good idea.

“You’re always better off letting states mimic each other,” Corker said before Obama’s Tennessee speech.

As it stands now, Obama’s program would be open to any high school graduate, though it would require students to maintain a 2.5 grade-point average in college.

“Restructuring the community college experience, coupled with free tuition, can lead to gains in student enrollment, persistence, and completion transfer, and employment,” the White House said in a statement.

Obama will present his proposal to Congress later this month.

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