WASHINGTON — President Obama rolled out a new plan Thursday that he said would make community college “free for everybody who is willing to work for it.” Officials provided no details about the program’s costs or where the money would come to pay for it.
Obama planned to formally announce the program Friday at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tenn. He gave a preview in a videotaped message shot aboard Air Force One and posted on Facebook. “It’s not just for kids,” Obama said. “We also have to make sure that everybody has the opportunity to constantly train themselves for better jobs, better wages, better benefits.”
Obama provided few specifics, and White House and Education Department officials said funding details would come out later with the president’s budget.
The administration did say that if all states participated, 9 million students could benefit, saving on average $3,800 in tuition a year for a full-time student. That means the program could cost in the billions of dollars. In a GOP-led Congress, the proposal likely faces a tough legislative fight.
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“With no details or information on the cost, this seems more like a talking point than a plan,” said Cory Fritz, press secretary for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
Marty Brown, executive director of Washington’s community-college system, said he had not seen details about how the system would work or what its effect would be in this state, where about 400,000 students attend the state’s 34 community and technical colleges. Those who go full time pay $4,000 a year in tuition, but most students attend part time, Brown said.
“I know about as much as you do,” Brown said of Obama’s proposal.
Under the proposal, participating students would be expected to maintain a modest grade-point average and participating schools would have to meet certain academic requirements. States would opt into the program and put up a fraction of the funding.