Free Tuition and Community Colleges

Free Tuition and Community Colleges
  • Opening Intro -

    Earlier this month, President Obama called on Congress to support an education initiative that would provide free college tuition at two-year schools, namely community and technical colleges.

    The initiative is loosely based on the “Tennessee Promise” model adopted by the Volunteer State.


If embraced on the national level, some 9 million students could start their higher education pursuit for free.

America’s College Promise

Dubbed, “America’s College Promise,” the initiative would require students to attend college at least half time and maintain a grade point average of at least 2.5. Further, students must make progress toward a degree.

If adopted, the program would cost the federal government approximately $60 billion over 10 years. The states would have to pay about one-quarter of the costs of the program. In addition, they would be required to maintain current education spending and work on reducing the need for students to take remedial classes and repeat courses.

Community and technical colleges play a pivotal role in helping students acquire a bachelor’s degree through various transfer schemes. Participating junior colleges would be required to provide academic programs that allow students to transfer to four-year colleges. They would also need to provide job training programs leading to the kinds of instruction employers require.

Post-Secondary Degree Rates

The Tennessee Promise program has received a lot of attention in academia and is what led to the president’s proposal. Tennessee’s goal is to raise the percentage of residents with a post-secondary degree. Indeed, the Volunteer State would like to see that figure rise to 55 percent from the current 33 percent.

There are two obstacles in place that would render Obama’s proposal dead on arrival.

First, the Republican-led Congress is concerned that federal spending is out of control. They want to reduce spending and tackle debt, what has topped $18 trillion. Some are contending that the initiative is best adopted and maintained at the state level.

Second, not all educators believe that America’s College Promise is the best course to take. Some believe that students who can afford to pay for college should and that students who need help the most may still do without. Moreover, private college administrators and others worry that the plan could move some students from private institutions to state-run schools. Concerns that four-year school funding might be slashed have been aired too.

A Transparent Funding Plan

One educator who has spoken out on behalf of the president’s plan is Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab, a professor of educational policy & sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

In a statement backing Obama’s initiative, Dr. Goldrick-Rab said, “The President’s plan to make the first two years of community college free is both smart and bold – it engages the states, builds on the Pell program rather than undercuts it, and focuses on our economic needs for two-year degrees. The President’s proposal would be simpler, more transparent, and quite likely more effective than today’s complicated financial aid system.”

The federal Pell grant program currently provides financial relief for millions of students, but it does not go far enough for some. The “promise” program, if enacted, would provide the most comprehensive assistance for eligible students offered at the federal level.

See Also — Free Community College for Tennessee Students?


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Categories: Campus News