By Matthew Lieke
If all states participate, about 9 million students pay nothing for two years at a community college
President Barack Obama teased a new plan to make community colleges available to all Americans last week, a move which North Dakota State College of Science President Dr. John Richman called an important step in bringing more recognition to two-year schools.
“My first reaction is that it is extremely gratifying to have your country’s president understand the value and the importance that community colleges and technical education plays in America reclaiming its dreams,” Richman said.
The plan from President Obama is labeled America’s College Promise and will be fully unveiled Tuesday, Jan. 20 during his State of the Union Address.
The plan would make two years of community college free for students who maintain certain academic standards, letting students earn the first half of a bachelor’s degree and earn skills needed in the workforce, at no cost.
According to a press release issued by the White House, if all states participate, an estimated 9 million students could benefit.
In a recent speech on the subject, Obama called the proposal an ambitious new plan to bring down the cost of community college tuition in America.
“I want to make it free. Community colleges should be free for those willing to work for it, because in America, a quality education cannot be a privilege reserved for a few. I think it’s a right for everybody who’s willing to work for it,” Obama added.
“America has been falling behind other countries in education, so it’s nice for the president to recognize that community colleges will be influential in reclaiming the number one spot,” Richman said. “It’s a realization that it’s not just the four-year universities, even though they play an important role, but the community colleges and technical colleges play a vital part.”
The release from the White House states that students will have their tuition eliminated if they attend at least half-time, maintain a 2.5 GPA while in college and make steady progress toward completing their program. Furthermore, full-time community college students could save an average of $3,800.
Federal funding will cover 75 percent of the average cost of community colleges and states that choose to participate will be expected to contribute the remaining funds necessary to eliminate the tuition for students who are eligible.
The plan was originally inspired by programs operating in the state of Tennessee and the city of Chicago. Despite the proposal providing a free education, though, Obama stressed the importance of students having to work for it.
“I want to underscore the last clause – everybody who’s working hard for it,” Obama said. “There are no free rides in America. You would have to earn it. Students would have to do their part by keeping their grades up.”
The plan itself is still in the early stages as it has yet to be unveiled to Congress. However, Richman explained that talking about the subject matter is still important.
“I think the proposal, from what I’ve been able to read presents an opportunity to start the discussion,” Richman said. “I don’t know if it will be the end-all, but certainly it’s great to start the discussion of how we get more U.S. citizens into the educational pipeline.
“I think just having the conversation is going to work toward bringing more awareness and more viability,” Richman continued. “It can help create a better understanding for young people, their parents and high school personnel to say ‘my president recognizes the value of a two-year degree. Maybe it’s something we need to think about a little bit more.’”
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