Free community college: A fantasy or a close reality?

Obama’s proposes two free years of community college for students

PHOTO BY ETHAN MILLER|ISTOCKPHOTO.COM President Barack Obama kicked off the new Congressional term by shocking many when announcing his plan to give all Americans access to community college.
President Barack Obama kicked off the new Congressional term by shocking many when announcing his plan to give all Americans access to community college.

Community college could soon be free for students across the country. In a speech given in Tennessee on Jan. 9 during his countrywide tour, President Obama announced his plan to help make community college more affordable. The plan is still in early stages of development, but it is on the top of Obama’s agenda before he leaves office. Reuters online reported an early estimated price tag of $60 billion over 10 years for the federal government. Obama would like to enact this plan by the upcoming September semester.
The plan for free community college is based off a Tennessee model system called the Tennessee Promise, and this system would be a state-by-state decision—not a federal law.
According to, the Tennessee Promise funds college scholarships using lottery reserve revenues the state has in partnership with an outside scholarship program. Students enrolled in the Tennessee Promise must maintain a 2.5 GPA and complete eight hours of community service each semester to withhold the funding.
According to the Huffington Post, if a state decided to adopt the system, the federal government would offer a grant to pay the excess tuition students are left with after the state funding they receive. The money students receive can be used for tuition, books, housing and other school related expenses. The plan would be in partnership with any Pell grants students receive.
“What I’d like to do is see the first two years of community college free for everybody who’s willing to work for it,” said President Obama in a speech about the plan. “It’s something we can accomplish and something that will train our work force so we can compete with anyone in the world.”
Individual states would be responsible for instituting the program within their state and must also help pay for the costs the federal government will not cover, which make it a federal and state government partnership. President Obama hopes to introduce this plan to Congress before the end of March in order to reach his goal of having this funding available for freshmen students in fall 2015 semester.
Schoolcraft President Dr. Conway Jeffress cleared the air about the impact it would have at Schoolcraft after rumors began spreading across campus.
“If the proposed plan does indeed go through, we could distribute these new monies to the self-paying students and to those getting loans. The remainder of the students would continue to receive financial aid from PELL. That would mean that all of our students would have all of their tuition and fees paid from sources other than themselves,” said Dr. Jeffress. “I have concerns about the proposed plan. Cost estimates by Bloomberg reporters speak of $60 billion over a ten-year period. I fear that the monies may be taken from the PELL program to pay for the new proposal.”
Republican opinion of the proposal has not been supportive. The majority of Republican representatives feel that states should take on plans to help out community college students with free tuition such as Schoolcraft College, which is only state run.
“I feel that if Obama can actually get the bill passed, it would be a great thing for low income students who may not be able to afford going to college,” said Schoolcraft student Ruby Aleman. “I would hope Michigan would be able to incorporate the plan as well, but am not optimistic that will happen any time soon.”
The plan would have qualifications for students to be eligible to apply for this government funding, and the amount of funding students receive varies. Some qualifications are being at least a part time student with a job or a full time student, maintaining a 2.5 GPA and regularly attending classes. Other qualifications include community service and sending progress reports on a regular basis to show progress being made towards their prospected career. Continuing on to a four-year college or work-study program after receiving a two years associate’s degree is also required.
This plan would be paid for from the existing 529 plans, which help families set aside money for college tuition, as well as from other places already in the national budget.
“There needs to be qualifications so the government can ensure that the money is being spent on students that really need assistance,” said Schoolcraft freshmen Vincent Burk. “This program could be bad depending on how much it costs and where exactly the money is coming from. If this means more taxes for citizens, I don’t know if I can support it.”
The program has only vaguely been discussed by the president and has left many unanswered questions. Critics believe the plan will not work or would be too costly for success. Many who oppose the plan are counting on the new Republican-controlled Congress to shut down the plan before it can be voted on.