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Reactions to Obama’s Tuition-Free Community College Plan

By Corey Murray

A round-up of what community college leaders are saying about the Obama administration’s proposal to offer eligible students two years of tuition-free community college.

By now you’ve heard about “America’s College Promise,” President Barack Obama’s proposal to provide “responsible” students in America with two years of free community college.

Specifically, the White House proposes to waive tuition for students who attend community college at least half-time, maintain a 2.5 GPA and make “steady progress” toward completion. Federal funding would cover three-quarters of the average cost of community college, and participating states would kick in the remaining funds.

Obama is hardly the first person to propose such a plan. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam made headlines last year when he announced a tuition-free community college program for students in his state. Oregon, New Jersey, Michigan and Chicago have also floated or enacted plans to pay for students to attend college. But this is the first such program proposed on a national level.

Though it still has to win approval in Congress — no small feat these days — the plan has received heavy praise from community college leaders for its goal to boost access to higher education and, by extension, increase career success.

“AACC has been hard at work identifying the promising practices that our member institutions have implemented to increase student access and success,” said Walter Bumphus, president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) in a statement. “The president’s proposal certainly fits into that category. This is an exciting day for the nation’s community colleges.”

Here’s a quick look at what some community college organizations and leaders are saying about the proposal:

AACC looks forward to working with the administration

“The president’s proposal appropriately recognizes that states, institutions, and students all have roles to play in increasing student success in higher education. AACC looks forward to working with the administration as it further develops the specifics of its proposal, particularly around issues involving state, institutional and program eligibility for the proposed grants.” —Statement from AACC

Consult this Community College Daily story for analysis and more details about AACC’s stance. 

ACCT lauds proposal

“The Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT) lauds President Obama for his unprecedented proposal to make a community college education free for most students. While many of the details of the President’s plan have yet to be revealed, we are encouraged that the aid will be available to community college students, including those in greatest need.” — Statement from ACCT

Public funding is an eventuality

“The president’s big vision is to ensure that postsecondary education is as universally affordable and accessible to as many Americans as possible. Community colleges are the logical place to realize this vision. Whatever Congress does with the proposal, it is safe to predict that, sometime in the future, and perhaps in some form that we cannot now envision, near full public funding for some education beyond high school for all Americans will be accepted without question.”— Karen A. Strout, president of Montgomery County Community College in Pennsylvania, in a Chronicle of Higher Education blog post

Public will rally around proposal

“Our track record has proven that we are democracy’s true equalizer, and I think people recognize that and will rally behind the president’s proposal, and we can make this a reality.” —Donald Generals, president, Community College of Philadelphia, in a CBS local news article.

Proposal is ‘very exciting’

The concept for me is very exciting. … Finances has always been a problem for community college students, and Grand Rapids is right in there with the rest of them.” — Steve Ender, president, Grand Rapids Community College in Michigan, in an MLive article

An idea whose ‘time has come’

“I certainly love the concept. I think it’s certainly one whose time has come.” — Edward Yaw, president, County College of Morris in New Jersey, in an NJ.com article

But not everyone is convinced the program will work.

States can’t afford the costs

“Most states, including Alabama, are already stretched far too thin, and it would be unlikely they could bear the financial burden. Just as bad, this program would likely place even more requirements and bureaucracy on our nation’s institutions of higher learning.” — Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.), from a statement quoted in U.S. News and World Report

The devil will be in the details

“Until the details come out, it will be very difficult to say how it will fare in Washington, D.C., or Washington state.” — David Rule, president, Bellevue College in Washington state, in a local news article

Want to learn more about the president’s proposal? Watch this video — and tell us what you think in the Comments. 

Corey Murray

is editor of the 21st-Century Center.

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