Obama's 'Free Community College' Proposal Met With Skepticism from Conservatives

( [email protected] ) Jan 09, 2015 02:13 PM EST
Conservatives have criticized President Barack Obama proposal for making two years of community college free for students, arguing that the White House has been vague regarding funding and specific costs for the plan.
President Obama said that the plan could benefit as many as nine million students who could save an average of $3,800 per year nationwide. Photo: Facebook/White House

President Obama's proposal to make community college free for all Americans who are "willing to work for it" has been met with skepticism from conservatives due to a lack of clarity regarding how the plan will be funded.

The president revealed his plan in a video posted on Facebook Thursday night, saying he wants to provide free community college for two years, by covering enough tuition to get at least 9 million students, who maintain a 2.5 grade point average, up to an associate's degree.  

"It's not 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."

The program is expected to cost the federal government $60 billion over 10 years, said White House spokesperson Eric Shultz. But while the president said the plan would  funded by the "federal government and participating states," he failed to reveal exactly where that money would come from.

The White House fact the sheet regarding the plan--which will require action from the majority-Republican congress--is also unclear, simply stating that the government will provide 75% of the average cost of community college tuition, and states will contribute the remaining amount.

The proposal drew an immediate critical response from Republican House Speaker John Boehner, whose spokesman said, "with no details or information on the cost, this seems more like a talking point than a plan."

Obama's proposal was reportedly influenced by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam's Tennessee Promise program which grants all high school graduates in the state eligibility for two years of free community college tuition. According to the program's website, around 58,000 of the state's roughly 62,000 seniors have applied to participate this fall.

However, Tennessee Republican Rep. Diane Black said that her state's plan is paid mostly with lottery funds, while the federal funding source for Obama's plan is unknown--meaning individual states would likely have to foot the cost. 

"Ultimately, any efforts to reboot Tennessee Promise as a one-size-fits-all nationwide approach will be met with heavy skepticism from Congress," Black said.

The proposal also drew criticism from those in the education field, including The Institute for College Access and Success. Calling the proposal "a wolf in sheep's clothing," the TICAS noted that that substantial costs of college such as living expenses, textbooks and transportation, are excluded from the deal.

"Making tuition free for all students regardless of their income is a missed opportunity to focus resources on the students who need aid the most," reads a statement on the group's website.

"Consider California community colleges, with the lowest tuition in the nation and waivers for low-income students. The result? Federal student aid application rates, even among low-income students, have been notoriously low, and part-time enrollment rates sky-high. "Free tuition" is not a panacea."

Cecilia Muñoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, has said further details of the plan will be in the president's next budget proposal.