President Obama on Thursday proposed making two years of community college free for students who meet basic performance objectives, a move he argues will benefit roughly 9 million students a year and save full-time community college students an average of $3,800 per year.
In order to be eligible for free tuition, students must attend a community college at least half-time, maintain a grade-point average of at least 2.5, and make “steady progress,” according to a statement on the White House’s website.
In return, community colleges must offer programs that allow students to transfer to local public four-year universities, or provide occupational training programs that result in high graduation rates and in-demand degrees.
If colleges meet these and other criteria, the federal government will cover three-quarters of the cost of attending community college. Participating states will be required to cover the rest.
The proposal, part of a program called America’s College Promise, is intended to make the U.S. more competitive in the global economy. The White House estimates that 35 percent of job openings will require a bachelor’s degree by 2020, and 30 percent will require some college or an associate’s degree.
The Washington Post reported that the costs of the effort would likely approach tens of billions of dollars over the next decade and face strong opposition from the Republican-controlled Congress.
“Nothing this large has ever been proposed at the federal level for community colleges,” David S. Baime, a senior vice president at the American Association of Community Colleges, told the Post. “It’s a staggering sum of money.”
Some outlets have already begun to question the efficacy of Obama’s proposal. Forbes argued that free tuition at community colleges could crowd out promising innovations from the private sector, and is unlikely to improve student success rates.
Obama is expected to unveil more details about the idea today during a trip to Knoxville, Tenn., where he will address a program enacted in 2014 by Gov. Bill Haslam. That program, dubbed Tennessee Promise, proposes using state lottery funds to cover parts of community college tuitions not covered by other federal grants.
Read the full fact sheet on Obama’s proposal here.