Obama proposes free tuition for community colleges

Says students must be 'willing to work for it'

This story is in progress and will be updated across the day.

President Barack Obama previewed on Thursday the outlines of a plan to make community college free for many students. Key details are expected to be announced on Friday, such as how much the program would cost and which schools may participate.

Details on the plan

In a video announcement, President Obama previewed a proposal making community college "free for everybody who is willing to work for it."

The video cues up a speech Obama will make on Friday during his visit to Pellissippi State Community College in Tennessee, when he is expected to announce further details of the plan. He will be joined by Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee), the new chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

We're excited for our friends Pellissippi State Community College, a member of the Community College Executive Forum. Click here to learn more about how we work with community colleges.

Early details suggest the federal government would cover 75% of the cost of tuition for two years, approximately $3,800 per student on average. The remaining 25% would be covered by states that choose to participate.

To be eligible, community college students will have to maintain a 2.5 GPA, make progress toward a credential, and attend classes at least half-time. For schools to be eligible, they must award credits which can be applied to a four-year degree or provide credentials that lead to work in high-demand fields.

Overall, the White House says as many as nine million students could benefit from the proposal.

Officials say the plan was partially inspired by Tennessee Promise, a program that makes the state's community college free for recent high school graduates. That program is a "last dollar" scholarship, which covers any costs remaining after other sources of aid have been applied. Obama's plan would work a little differently, providing funding up-front.

Remaining questions

Obama has not yet announced a plan for funding the program. The White House says the president will provide more details to Congress during his State of the Union address later this month, and include specifics on cost in the administration's 2016 budget proposal.

Another open question is how much support the president will be able to gain for the proposal in Congress. Alexander's appearance at Friday's event suggests a measure of support for the proposal, at least among some Republicans. However, many commentators expect Republicans to be resistant to passing legislation enacting the president's plan (Grasgreen, Politico, 1/8; Davis/Lewin, New York Times, 1/8; Parsons, Los Angeles Times, 1/8).

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