Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, U.S. senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, and U.S. representatives Chuck Fleischmann and John J. Duncan Jr., all Republicans, released statements or commented on the East Tennessee visit by President Barack Obama, a Democrat, on Friday and his proposal to make the first two years of community college free to responsible students. Pellissippi State Community College President Anthony Wise and Roane State Community College President Chris Whaley also released statements or commented on the visit and education proposal.
The president’s proposal, America’s College Promise, will be proposed in his State of the Union on January 20, and it is modeled after the Tennessee Promise.
Here’s what the officials from Tennessee said:
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam
The president recognizes that good things are happening in Tennessee. We are proud of the Tennessee Promise. It is changing the culture of expectations in Tennessee by encouraging more students to pursue a certificate or degree beyond high school. The Tennessee Promise is focused not just on access but success in terms of making certain that students actually attain their degree. We think having a mentor available for the students is an important part of achieving that success.
Regarding the specifics of the presidentâ€™s plan, we look forward to seeing more details in the coming days about the cost of the program and how it will be covered.
U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander
The right way to expand Tennessee Promise nationally is for other states to do for themselves what Tennessee has done. Then, instead of creating a new federal program, the federal government can help in two ways. First, reduce federal paperwork for the ridiculous 108-question student aid application form, which discourages two million Americans from applying for federal Pell grants that are already available to help pay community college tuition. Every Tennessee Promise applicant has to fill out this form. Second, pay for the millions of new Pell grants that will be awarded if other states emulate Tennessee Promise and if Congress reduces federal paperwork and allows students to use Pell grants year-round.
The reason Tennessee can afford Tennessee Promise is that 56 percent of our stateâ€™s community college students already have a federal Pell grant, which averages $3,300, to help pay for the average $3,800-per-year tuition. The state pays the differenceâ€”$500 on average. Nationally, in 16 states, the average Pell grant pays for the typical studentâ€™s entire community college tuition.â€
Alexander, who is chairman of the Senate education committee, also had a second brief statement on the new manufacturing institute:
Todayâ€™s decision will make it easier to take advantage of the extraordinary expertise in materials at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which in turn will make it easier to create good-paying jobs. In a state like Tennessee that is increasingly attracting new advanced manufacturing jobs, this new institute and Oak Ridgeâ€™s unique expertise is one more good reason for advanced manufacturing companies to locate in Tennessee.
U.S. Senator Bob Corker
From White House travel pool report:
Senator Bob Corker, who travelled to Knoxville aboard Air Force One, praised the Tennessee program that was an inspiration for the White House effort, but said he doesnâ€™t think a big federal program is the best way to extend community college to more students. Instead he said he favored state and local efforts. â€œYouâ€™re always better off letting states mimic each other,” he said.
U.S. Representative Chuck Fleischmann
Tennessee has an exceptional business climate, and thanks to local workforce development efforts and public-private partnerships, manufacturing is growing in East Tennessee. We are fortunate to be home to some great educational institutions, research facilities, and amazing companies. This outstanding work has garnered recognition from the Department of Energy, which, in conjunction with universities and nonprofits, has announced the launch of the new Manufacturing Innovation Institute for Advanced Composites. I am glad the president took the time today to come see all that is happening in East Tennessee. I am hopeful he will work with the new Congress to help businesses continue to grow through mechanisms like this public-private partnership.
U.S. Representative John J. Duncan Jr.
The President was very kind to me on our flight on Air Force One and during our lunch at Pellissippi State and the event that followed.
I had earlier said in a statement that it is always an honor to have any president, regardless of party, come to a Congressional district. I am grateful that he came to East Tennessee today.
I certainly will give serious consideration to any proposal he sends to Congress.
I do have concerns about the cost of any federal program since we have a national debt of $18 trillion, and it is still going up every year.
Also, the cost estimate of every federal program is always low-balled on the front end, and costs always explode on anything the federal government subsidies.
I also have concerns about what might happen to thousands of small, private colleges around the country if the federal government starts subsidizing community colleges even more than it is now. State and federal taxpayers already pay most of the cost of our Nationâ€™s community colleges.
Pellissippi State Community College President Anthony Wise
It was a great day for the college. We thought the event went very well.
The proposal had sparked a national conversation about community college, Wise said, and education officials in the Volunteer State are going to wrok on the first full class of Tennessee Promise students.
Roane State Community College President Chris Whaley
The president’s proposal is great news for community colleges. We are especially pleased that President Obama’s proposal includes adult learners. For adults who want to go back to school, taking out a loan is often the only way that they can pay for their education. Under the president’s initiative, adults will have the support they need to earn degrees and credentials that lead to good jobs. President Obama’s proposal is a game-changer.