President Barack Obama announced his plan for free tuition for community colleges in a speech delivered to Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee, on Jan. 9.
The proposal, named America’s College Promise, aims to make community college tuition free for two years across the United States.
“Community colleges should be free for those willing to work for it,” Obama said in his speech, emphasizing that students would have to be enrolled at school at least half time and maintain a minimum of a 2.5 grade point average. “Here in America, we don’t guarantee equal outcomes … but we do expect everybody to get a fair shot.”
According to the Obama administration, the proposal is estimated to cost the federal government $60 billion over 10 years and could save students at community colleges an average $3,800 per year.
“The American College Promise proposal is a serious attempt by the Obama administration to increase the number of college graduates,” said Chris McHorney, chair of the Department of History and Government. “However, implementing the proposal in all 50 states would be very costly. Given the existing level of federal debt, Congress is extremely unlikely to support the proposal.”
Students in Riverside varied in their enthusiasm toward Obama’s plan.
“If you’re going to maintain (your grade point average) and someone else is going to pay for (tuition), you might as well do it,” said Danielle Steinmuller, junior early childhood development major at Riverside Community College.
Because the federal government would be paying for 75 percent of the tuition and the state the other 25 percent, some students said they were worried about the increase in taxes if the proposal were to be implemented into law.
“Reducing and even eliminating the financial barriers our students face will be a game-changer for them,” said Dr. Michael Burke, chancellor of the Riverside Community College District. “Reducing financial barriers to students will accelerate their speed to completion, allowing them to get skills certifications faster, and promote their access to the workforce. This will be a win-win for our region.”
Obama’s proposal has been met with skepticism from other politicians.
“Encouraging more individuals to pursue training or earn a college degree is a national priority and community colleges play a vital role in that effort,” said Rep. John Kline (R – Minn.), chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, in a press release. “But make no mistake, the president is proposing yet another multi-billion dollar federal program that will compete with existing programs for limited taxpayer dollars.”
Kline expressed his doubts toward the new program.
“Unless the president has a responsible plan to meet our existing commitments, he shouldn’t be making new promises the American people can’t afford,” Kline said.