By: Rachel Blevins
On Friday, President Obama introduced a new plan to make community college “free” for students in the United States. While alleviating the cost for students during their first two years, the federal government would pay $60 billion of Obama’s $80 billion program, and the states would be forced to come up with the remaining $20 billion, over the course of 10 years.
Obama made his announcement at the Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee, while on a tour to promote some of the items he will present in his next State of the Union address, on January 20. Reuters noted that the upcoming address will be Obama’s “first to the U.S. Congress since Republicans won the Senate in November elections.”
During his speech in Knoxville, Obama said that due to the fact that he was “not running for office anymore,” he would just be presenting the facts.
“I’m going to announce one of my most important State of the Union proposals, and that’s helping every American afford a higher education,” Obama said.
Calling the investment in education, America’s hallmark, and putting an emphasis on the importance of attending community college, Obama announced his plan to create “America’s College Promise.”
“Community colleges should be free for those willing to work for it,” said Obama. “Because in America, a quality education cannot be a privilege that is reserved for a few.”
While Obama said that he wanted to make community college tuition “free” for students, the cost would then be transferred to other entities.
During a press conference on Friday, Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz admitted that Obama’s plan is a “significant investment.”
Schultz explained that 75 percent of the cost, or $60 billion, would be paid by the federal government, over 10 years, while 25 percent would be paid by the states.
“Given the interest in the cost, I wanted to let you know that it is going to be roughly $60 billion over 10 years,” said Schultz, who went on to say that the plan is one the President “believes is worthwhile,” and that there is “no better ticket to the middle class than a college education.”
According to RT, while Obama’s plan alleviates the cost of community college, which “averaged $3,347 in the 2014-2015 school year,” it does nothing to address the “skyrocketing cost of tuition at four-year universities, where many community college students transfer after one or two years,” which averaged $9,139 at public, and $31,231 at private colleges.
Obama announced the program in Tennessee, due to the fact that he hoped to model his own “College Promise” after a program the state already has in place called the “Tennessee Promise.”
Although Obama has the support of the Governor of Tennessee, Republican Bill Haslam, who created the state’s program, he has been met with criticism by other Tennessee lawmakers for trying to bring the program to the federal level.
Following Obama’s announcement about the plan, Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, a Republican, said that he thought the program should be left at the state level. “You’re always better off letting states mimic each other,” said Corker.
Tennessee Representative Steve Cohen, a Democrat, and an architect of Tennessee’s HOPE college program, told the New York Times that Obama’s promise to make a program that will help the middle class, while modeling the current program in Tennessee, is flawed due to the fact that Tennessee’s program tends to help “more affluent and lower-achieving students,” instead of those with the “greatest financial need and the best chance of excelling academically.”
“He shouldn’t be holding Tennessee Promise out as a model because it’s not a model,” said Cohen. “It’s a facade to cover up what is a dying system that hasn’t been funded.”