Program could expand the ladder of opportunity for low-income students
Think college tuition is too high? How about offering the first two years for free?
That’s exactly what America’s College Promise would do. The White House program, presented in January, would offer two years of free community college tuition to students who attend at least half time, maintain a 2.5 GPA and make steady progress toward completing their program of study. The program would serve roughly 9 million students annually and save full-time students approximately $3,800 in tuition per year.
The White House has compared the new proposal to the culture shift nearly a century ago, when high school became more widely available and the resulting boost in education levels helped drive decades of economic growth and prosperity. By sending more students to college, America’s College Promise is designed to enrich the workforce with the knowledge and skills needed to compete in the new global economy.
Additionally, expanding access to an affordable college education could help break down economic barriers by welcoming lower-income families to new opportunities. In this way, education could once again become the great equalizer.
America’s College Promise requires that community colleges offer either academic credits that would fully transfer to local public four-year colleges, or occupational training with high graduation rates in in-demand fields of study. Programs and reforms designed to improve student outcomes would also be required. President Obama cited those already in place at the City University of New York, where faculty and staff are members of the AFT, as a good example: The Accelerated Study in Associate Programs at CUNY waives tuition and provides supports such as tutoring, mentoring, scheduling advice, career counseling, and help paying for transportation and textbooks.
Who pays for these services? Federal funding would cover 75 percent of the average cost of community college tuition, and participating states would pay the rest. States would also be required to continue existing investments in higher education; coordinate high schools, community colleges and four-year institutions to reduce the need for remediation and repeated courses; and allocate funding based on performance.
“Extending the ladder of opportunity to those who may have thought college was out of reach is so important,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten, just after America’s College Promise was introduced. “We applaud the president’s proposal and hope that Congress, state governments and higher education institutions will work together to make this program a reality.”
In a related proposal, Obama’s American Technical Training Fund would create job-driven partnerships between educational institutions and businesses. It is designed to promote work-based learning opportunities, accelerated training programs and coursework accommodation for part-time work, especially in high-demand fields such as energy, information technology and advanced manufacturing.