Obama Proposes Free Community College For 2 Years, Potentially Benefiting Millions
Reaffirming his commitment to continuing higher education, President Obama has proposed providing two years of free community college to students with good grades in a move that the White House says could benefit millions. In a video on the White House's Facebook page, Obama briefly outlines his plan to make "community college accessible to everyone." Capitalizing on his reputation as perhaps the United States' most technologically savvy president, Obama's use of Facebook to spread the word of his new community college plan comes as three-state tour in anticipation of his upcoming State of the Union address.
Filmed on Air Force One and featuring a more relaxed President Obama, the teaser video comes as the executive makes his way to Knoxville, Tennessee, where Governor Bill Haslam approved a similar scholarship program last year, providing free community and technical college for graduating seniors. The vast majority of the state's 62,000 seniors applied to participate in the program, with 94 percent of students vying for the state-paid tuition.
"Put simply, what I'd like to do is to see the first two years of community college free for anybody who's willing to work for it," Obama noted in his video. "It's something we can accomplish, and it's something that will train our workforce so that we can compete with anyone in the world." With late 2013 reports suggesting that American students have fallen behind on the international playing field when it comes to math and science scores, the executive's focus on higher education comes as a much needed push from the federal level.
While such a program would certainly be aimed towards the younger generation of college-aged students, Obama also pointed out that the initiative could also affect older Americans who wished to return to their education. Said the president, "It's not for kids. We also have to make sure that everybody has the opportunity to constantly train themselves for better jobs, better wages, better benefits." Along with the Education Department, the White House has planned a briefing for Thursday evening that will provide further details about the two-year community college funding plan, including what will constitute "willing to work for it," and how the program will be funded.
According to officials, Obama's plan would save the average community college student $3,800 every year. Obama finished his video announcement by urging viewers to tune in to his upcoming State of the Union address, and also nudging Congress to "get behind these kinds of efforts to ensure that even as we rebound and grow in 2015, that it benefits everybody and not just some."
On Friday, Obama is scheduled to give a more complete outline of his plan when he visits Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville. In hopes of making the proposed program a more bipartisan effort, a number of high-profile Tennessee Republicans are expected to join the president in the Volunteer State. The presence of GOP members marks a departure from the previous trend of avoiding the president at all costs when he makes appearances in Tennessee, as was the case in 2014 when Obama went to Nashville, and in 2013 when he appeared in Chattanooga.
This time, however, Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) will be traveling alongside Obama and Vice President Biden on Air Force One when they arrive in Knoxville. Sen. Lamar Alexander and Governor Haslam are also expected to be in attendance. On Wednesday, Sen. Corker told local news station WBIR, "Anytime the president of the United States wants to highlight our state's success in higher education and the ability to attract high-paying jobs, I'm happy to be there."
Hopefully, this show of solidarity forecasts support across the aisle for education initiatives as the 114th Congress gets underway, especially considering the inevitable disagreements that will emerge as issues like abortion, immigration and the Keystone XL pipeline begin to take center stage. But as President Obama noted in his Facebook video, education remains of paramount importance to the longevity and success of the United States, and hopefully, plans like free community college will set the tone for the politics of 2015.
Images: The White House/Facebook; Getty Images (3)