Inspired by programs in Tennessee and Chicago, President Barack Obama has unveiled a proposal to make two years of community college free for anyone who’s willing to work for it, the White House said Thursday.
The White House said 57,000 students representing almost 90 percent of the state’s high school graduating class applied for the Tennessee scholarship program, which is called Tennessee Promise, in the first year. It provides two years of community or technical college to graduating high school seniors free of tuition and fees.
The federal program is called America’s College Promise, and it could benefit roughly nine million students each year, officials said. A full-time community college student could save an average of $3,800 in tuition per year.
The president is expected to announce the proposal in Knoxville on Friday, when he visits Pellissippi State Community College in Hardin Valley and manufacturer Techmer PM in Clinton. Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill will join Obama on the East Tennessee trip.
The president is also expected to discuss his proposal during the State of the Union on January 20.
Under Obama’s new proposal, students would be able to earn the first half of a bachelor’s degree, or earn the technical skills needed in the workforce—all at no cost to them, the White House said.
During his Friday visit, Obama is also expected to launch a new manufacturing innovation hub.
Here are the proposed requirements for America’s College Promise:
- Students must attend community college at least half-time, maintain a 2.5 grade point average, and make steady progress toward completing their program.
- Community colleges will be expected to offer programs that are either:
- academic programs that fully transfer credits to local public four-year colleges and universities, or
- occupational training programs with high graduation rates that lead to in-demand degrees and certificates. Community colleges must also adopt promising and evidence-based institutional reforms to improve student outcomes.
- Federal funding will cover three-quarters of the average cost of community college. Participating states will be expected to contribute the remaining funds necessary to eliminate the tuition for eligible students.
The president also proposed a new American Technical Training Fund to expand innovative, high-quality technical training programs similar to Tennessee Tech Centers that meet employer needs and help prepare more Americans for better paying jobs, the White House said.
Specifically, the fund will award programs that:
- have strong employer partnerships and include work-based learning opportunities,
- provide accelerated training, and
- accommodate part-time work.
“These proposals build on a number of historic investments the president has made in college affordability and quality since taking office, including a $1,000 increase in the maximum Pell Grant award to help working and middle class families, the creation of the $2,500 American Opportunity Tax Credit, reforming student loans to eliminate subsidies to banks to invest in making college more affordable, and keeping student debt manageable, and making available over $2 billion in grants to connect community colleges with employers to develop programs that are designed to get hard-working students good jobs,” the press release said.
It said the Tennessee scholarship is coupled with college counseling, mentorship, and community service that early evidence suggests supports greater enrollment, persistence, and college completion.
“This is coupled with efforts to spur innovation and improvement by funding colleges using performance outcomes based on student success and an innovative approach to career and technical education through the Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology,” the release said. “These Tennessee Tech Centers have a graduation rate of 80 percent and a job placement rate of 85 percent.”
The White House said an estimated 35 percent of job openings will require at least a bachelor’s degree by 2020, and 30 percent will require some college or an associate’s degree.
“Students should be able to get the knowledge and the skills they need without taking on decades’ worth of student debt,” said David Hudson, in a blog post on the White House website on Thursday. Hudson is associate director of content for the Office of Digital Strategy.
“The America’s College Promise proposal would create a new partnership with states to help them waive tuition in high-quality programs for responsible students, while promoting key reforms to help more students complete at least two years of college,” the press release said. “Restructuring the community college experience, coupled with free tuition, can lead to gains in student enrollment, persistence, and completion transfer, and employment.”
More information will be added as it becomes available.