A Guide to Obama's Free Community College Plan

Since President Obama announced his new $60 billion community college initiative to provide two years of community college for free in January, pundits from the left and the right have been attacking the plan. The proposal has ignited debates across the country in the latest chapter of the growing student debt crisis.

The proposed "American College Promise" would provide free tuition for the first two years of community college for "everybody who's willing to work for it", according to the White House. The federal government would partner with states towards the overall goal of increasing economic prosperity by widening access to education. The White House claims the program could help up to 9 million students a year.

The program requires students to meet eligibility requirements in order to have their tuition waived, and the proposal demands action not only from students but also from community colleges and states in order qualify for the initiative's federal funding.

Requirements for Students:

  • Must be enrolled at least half-time
  • Must maintain a 2.5 GPA
  • Must make steady progress towards completion
  • Cannot have a AGI (adjusted gross income) above $200,000

Requirements for Community Colleges:

  • Must offer study programs that fulfill transfer requirements to 4-year public schools or provide occupational training programs
  • Must adopt evidence-based reforms to improve student outcomes

Requirements for States:

  • Must opt in and supply ¼ of the necessary funds
  • Must commit to continue existing higher education investments
  • Must allocate funding based on performance, not enrollment

This program has been met with an array of criticism from all sides. Some critics, such as Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, insist the federal government should not impose these types of programs on states. Instead, states should be allowed to learn from each other and decide what is most effective for them.

Others raise the argument that community college is already free for most low-income students through Pell grants. If the president wants to provide further support to low-income students, why not expand the already established Pell grant program? Additionally, free tuition in itself does not necessarily lead to higher graduation rates. Student advising and further grants to cover books and living expenses could be more effective investments if the White House's goal is to improve student outcomes at community colleges.

Despite all of the critical attention given to the president's "American College Promise" initiative by the media, many students favor the proposed program. MJ T., a recent graduate with student loans from attending a private university and private graduate school, believes Obama's proposal is a good idea, but that "It should be followed by moves for additional funding for community colleges to improve their facilities, expand their offerings, and to attract even more talented professors." Aurora L., another recent graduate with student loan debt, shares MJ's positive view of the President's initiative. She stated, "I think students should take advantage of this in order to reduce their student loan debt."

Higher education is expensive, and initiatives aimed at lessening the burden on recent graduates should be welcomed as a step in the right direction. Providing options for students and graduates to minimize debt is of critical concern as the student debt crisis continues. That is why I started Credible: to provide options for students who have already been impacted by the crisis and are searching for relief.