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Obama to outline plan for free community college

President Barack Obama will announce a proposal today to make two years of community college free for eligible students with the goal of making a two-year college degree as universal as a high school diploma.

According to a White House press release the initiative, called America’s College Promise, would waive tuition costs for students attending one of the country’s more than 1,100 community colleges at least half-time while maintaining a 2.5 GPA and making steady progress toward completing a degree.

For their students to be eligible, community colleges would also have to ensure their course credits are fully transferable to a four-year institution, or are part of occupational training programs for high-demand fields with high graduation rates.

The White House estimates as many as 9 million students could benefit under the proposal, saving full-time students an average of $3,800 in annual tuition costs. About 40 percent of the country’s college students attend community colleges.

The New York Times reports White House officials did not provide estimates of the program’s total costs, but acknowledged it would be “significant.” The administration told reports this morning they project the proposal would cost about $60 billion over ten years.

President Obama will make the announcement at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee. Last summer Tennessee launched its own program to offer two free years of community college to the state’s high school graduates, which was championed by Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican. In its first year, 57,000 high school seniors have signed up for the program, which includes college counseling and mentoring.

While a federal program to extend public schooling by two years could be a tough sell in the new Republican-controlled Congress, Eric Schultz, a White House deputy press secretary, told reporters Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander and Rep. John Duncan, all Tennessee Republicans were travelling on Air Force One with the President this morning.

“We do appreciate the bipartisan interest in this,” Schultz said. “We take Republicans at their word when they say there is interest in education,” he said.

David S. Baime, a senior vice president of at the American Association of Community Colleges told the Washington Post that “nothing this large has ever been proposed at the federal level for community colleges. It’s a staggering sum of money. It’s a very bold proposal that targets federal investment in the right students at the right institutions.”

PBS NewsHour coverage of higher education is supported by the Lumina Foundation and American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen, a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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