Obama plan would help many go to Community College free

    WASHINGTON (TIP): President Obama said Thursday,January 8, that he would propose a government program topay the tuition of many community college students, anambitious plan that would expand educational opportunitiesfor millions of Americans, says a New York Times report.The initiative, which the president plans to officiallyannounce Friday, January 9, at a Tennessee communitycollege, aims to transform publicly financed higher educationin an effort to address growing income inequality.The plan would be funded by the federal government andparticipating states, but White House officials declined todiscuss how much it would cost or how it would be financed.It is bound to be expensive and likely a tough sell to aRepublican Congress not eager to spend money, especially ona proposal from the White House.

    “With no details or information on the cost,this seems more like a talking point than aplan,” said Cory Fritz, a spokesman for HouseSpeaker John A. Boehner, Republican ofOhio.Mr. Obama’s advisers acknowledgedThursday that the program’s goals would notbe achieved quickly. The president, however,was more upbeat. “It’s something that we canaccomplish, and it’s something that will trainour work force so that we can compete withanybody in the world,” Mr. Obama said in avideo posted Thursday night by the WhiteHouse.The proposal would cover half-time andfull-time students who maintain a 2.5 gradepoint average – about a C-plus – and who”make steady progress toward completing aprogram,” White House officials said. Itwould apply to colleges that offered credittoward a four-year degree or occupationaltrainingprograms that award degrees inhigh-demand fields. The federal governmentwould cover three-quarters of the averagecost of community college for those students,and states that choose to participate wouldcover the remainder. If all states participate,the administration estimates, the programcould cover as many as nine million students,saving them each an average of $3,800 a year.Mr. Obama will include the program,which would need congressional approval, inhis budget for the coming year, his adviserssaid, and detail it in his State of the Unionaddress Jan. 20.The plan is modeled after Tennessee’s freecommunity college program, called theTennessee Promise, which will be available tostudents graduating high school this year. Ithas drawn 58,000 applicants, almost 90percent of the state’s high school seniors, andmore than twice as many as expected.The program has gone a long way towardmaking community college attainable for allstudents. In addition, the proportion ofapplicants who are African-American and Hispanic is higher than their proportioncurrently enrolled in Tennessee colleges. Theprogram is backed by the state’s Republicangovernor, Bill Haslam, and largely financedfrom lottery funds.Still, Tennessee Promise has beencriticized by some who say it is structured tobenefit middle-income students more thanthe neediest.It is designed as a “last dollar” scholarship,paying only for tuition costs not covered byother programs. A low-income student who iseligible for a maximum Pell Grant of $5,730would not receive assistance under theTennessee program, because that amountwould already cover tuition. A more affluentstudent, however, could get full tuition paidby the program.Mr. Obama’s plan, by contrast, would covertuition costs up front, White House officialssaid.Representative Diane Black, Republican ofTennessee, said despite the success of herstate’s program, she was skeptical of theObama initiative, calling it “a top-downfederal program that will ask already cashstrappedstates to help pick up the tab.”Chicago, too, has a new free communitycollege initiative starting this year. Theprogram initiated by Mayor Rahm Emanuel,a Democrat, will give Chicago Public Schoolstudents who graduate with at least a 3.0grade-point average waivers to cover tuition,books and fees at the city’s seven communitycolleges.White House officials acknowledged in aconference call with reporters that theprogram was unlikely to win quick approvalin Congress. Still, they said, in proposing it,Mr. Obama was seeking to press states andcommunity colleges to beef up theirinvestments in high-quality education inways that would have a lasting effect evenbefore federal legislation was enacted.”We don’t expect the country to betransformed overnight, but we do expect thisconversation to begin tomorrow,” said CeciliaMuñoz, the president’s domestic policy chief.About 7.7 million Americans attendcommunity college for credit, of whom 3.1million attend full time, according to theAmerican Association of CommunityColleges, relying on 2012 data. Over all, thefederal government provides about $9.1billion to community colleges, or about 16percent of the total revenue the collegesreceive. Tuition from students provides $16.7billion a year, or nearly 30 percent ofrevenue.Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, aformer education secretary, will attend the announcement at Pellissippi StateCommunity College in Knoxville, Tenn., onFriday.In an op-ed published on Thursday, heexpressed concern about the federal role insuch a program. Tennessee has beenhindered by federal bureaucracy, he wrote inThe Knoxville News Sentinel. “Let otherstates emulate Tennessee’s really good idea,”he wrote.

    (Source: New York Times)

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