Investing in Our Future: President’s Proposal Promises Free Community College Tuition

The White House has released a proposal to allow students to attend community college for free for their first two years if they work hard and keep their grades up. The “America’s College Promise” plan prioritizes public investments in more affordable education and could benefit as many as 9 million American students enrolled in community colleges across the country. The plan would save full-time students an average of $3,800 in tuition each year.

“Put simply, what I’d like to do is to see the first two years of community college free for everybody who’s willing to work for it—that’s right, free for everybody who’s willing to work for it,” explained President Obama in a video message.

The president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges welcomed the announcement, saying, “College costs are a major concern for community college students. Though our sector provides the most affordable entry into higher education, our institutions also serve the neediest students… [M]ore students would see college as a viable option as a result of this initiative.”

The plan requires that students attend college at least part-time, work toward completion of a degree program, and maintain a 2.5 GPA.

The White House hasn’t released any details about the total cost of the program, but that hasn't stopped some from preemptively criticizing the scope of the proposal. One such critic, Rep. Diane Black (R-TN), said, “While the White House says that three quarters of the program would be paid for with federal funding, I have yet to hear what offsets, if any, would be proposed to ensure Americans are not saddled with greater debt and deficits as a result.” But the president's proposal is modeled after the “Tennessee Promise” college affordability initiative that Black supports and her own state has successfully funded.

If the federal program saw full participation, it could provide a maximum of $34.2 billion in benefits to students each year. Funding the proposal wouldn't be difficult if Congress made the decision to invest in our future. Just one example of where we could find these funds: allowing a $42 billion package of inefficient, almost exclusively corporate giveaways to expire. Black was among the members of Congress who voted to pass that package last month, but another extension would be needed to keep such giveaways in place. Getting rid of those tax breaks and other special favors would fully pay for the president's community college plan, with nearly $8 billion left for other crucial public investments.

Today’s students will be facing a job market where 35 percent of job openings will require at least a Bachelor’s degree. Ensuring that college is affordable for all responsible students is crucial to making sure Americans are ready to seize career opportunities and make a difference in society. The United States can easily afford to pick up the tab for hard-working community college students, but to do so, Congress must be willing to prioritize education above additional corporate giveaways.  


For Further Reading:

Flow of Illicit Money Undermines Governments and Impedes DevelopmentThe Fine Print, 12/16/2014

A Taxing Double Standard: Americans with Troubled Mortgages Penalized While Scofflaw Banks Enjoy Tax BreaksThe Fine Print, 10/22/2014

"Flexibility" for Whom? Irregular Schedules, Other Practices Wreak Havoc on WorkersThe Fine Print, 8/19/2014

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great article, well written chad edward hatten