President Obama called for expanded higher education access for Americans during his address at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tenn. on Jan. 9. “Today, I’m announcing an ambitious new plan to bring down the cost of community college tuition in America. I want to bring it down, to zero,” Obama said. “I want to make it free.”
The plan, dubbed America’s College Promise, calls for free education for students during their first two years at community colleges.
Obama chose Tennessee to unveil his proposal because the state is already implementing progressive ideas regarding higher education. PSCC is rolling out its own version of free community college, called Tennessee’s Promise, in fall 2015. Obama named America’s College Promise after the Tennessee program.
“I hope that Congress will come together to support it, because opening the doors of higher education shouldn’t be a democratic or a republican issue,” Obama said. “This is an American issue.”
The president said what matters most is effort and merit, adding that there will be no free rides and students will be expected to work hard. Obama stressed that while individual outcomes would vary, the opportunity for obtaining a higher education would be equal for everyone.
“The value of education is not purely instrumental. Education helps us be better people, it helps us be better citizens,” he said. “A college degree is the surest ticket to the middle class.”
The plan would include expanding technical training programs at community colleges and simplifying financial aid applications by making the forms shorter and easier to fill out.
To be eligible, students would need to attend community college at least half-time, maintain a 2.5 GPA and make steady progress toward completing programs.
The program would also require that community colleges have programs offering transferable credits to a four year college or occupational training programs with high graduation rates. Federal funding would cover three-fourths of the cost and participating states with qualified colleges would become partners, contributing the remaining funds to cover tuition.
Further information can be found on the whitehouse.gov website briefing room.