Free. Who doesn’t like FREE? But when’s the last time you heard the word “free” in the same sentence as college education? In President Obama’s State of the Union speech, he proposed “America’s College Promise,” a plan that would enable millions of students to attend community college tuition-free.
Free Community College – the “American College Promise”
Modeled on the Tennessee program called the Tennessee Promise, Obama’s ambitious plan would benefit as many as 9 million students attending any one of the 1,100 community colleges nation-wide. President Obama spent about 2 1/2 minutes of his State of the Union address laying out the free community college proposal (see clip below).
Are You Eligible for the Free Community College Program?
In the Tennessee program, nearly 90 percent of the state’s high school seniors have applied – 58,000 students! The program proposed by the White House is not identical to the Tennessee program, but like the Tennessee Promise, the program does have specific criteria in which applicants have to meet:
- must be attending one of the country’s more than 1,100 community colleges at least half-time
- must maintain a 2.5 GPA (this corresponds to about a C-plus average). Note: Chicago also has a new free community college initiative, but it’s based solely on GPA. Students who maintain a 3.0 GPA receive free tuition, free books, and no administrative fees at any of Chicago’s seven community colleges.
- make steady progress toward completing a degree (while this isn’t defined, the implication is that you will not skip semesters, cut classes, or in any way show a lack of progress)
- the college must offer credit toward a four-year degree or occupational-training programs in “high-demand” fields
Grow the Economy. Address Growing Income Inequality
In the President’s speech, he said, “I want to spread that idea all across America, so that two years of college becomes as free and universal in America as high school is today.” The President made the case that by directing funds directly to those areas where American jobs are most needed, the more likely the program will succeed. The result: more young students will choose college; more options will open for older employees looking for a better job; an excellent opportunity for veterans and single parents trying to transition back into the job market.
It’s hard to argue against the benefits of free community college, especially for the audience mentioned above. The President is also hopeful that this approach will prepare America for the new economy. With full tuition paid, those persons living on low-income, or have otherwise simply assumed they would never attend college, now have a new spark – a hopeful one. On top of the positive direction and hope, unlike many of today’s graduates, the President encourages the opportunity for students to graduate from college without a mountain of debt.