Politics & Government

President to propose making community college free

President Barack Obama speaks at Central High School, Jan. 8, 2015, in Phoenix, about the recovering housing sector.
President Barack Obama speaks at Central High School, Jan. 8, 2015, in Phoenix, about the recovering housing sector. AP

President Barack Obama is proposing that everyone should have the chance to go to community college for free.

The White House sketched out the plan on Thursday night, ahead of the president’s formal announcement about it on Friday in Tennessee.

Students would have to maintain at least a 2.5 grade point average, attend school at least half-time and make progress toward earning an associate degree or job skills certificate, according to an outline of the plan from the White House.

The federal government would pay about 75 percent of the cost, and states the rest. Officials, however, refused to say how much that would be. White House domestic policy adviser Cecilia Muñoz told reporters that the cost amount and how to pay for it would be announced later, when the president’s budget proposal is released.

“We have to make sure that everybody has the chance to train themselves for better jobs, better wages, better benefits,” Obama said in a video from Air Force One released on Facebook that previewed his community college proposal.

“I hope we have a chance to make sure that Congress gets behind these kinds of efforts to ensure that even as we rebound and grow in 2015, that it benefits everybody and not just some,” Obama said.

Obama is making the announcement in Tennessee because the state already has a program that covers tuition and fees at community colleges and technical colleges. Chicago also has free tuition at community colleges for students who maintain a 3.0 GPA.

Education Under Secretary Ted Mitchell said as many as 9 million students could benefit. The number was based on an estimate that more people would go to community colleges if the program were in place nationwide. Students would save an estimated $3,800 per year on average if they attended full time.

Munoz noted that congressional approval would be required, and states would have to decide to participate, a long and uncertain process. But Obama hopes that his proposal gets a debate started immediately about the merits of two years of free college, she said.

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