President Obama is determined to make good on his pledge to push for tuition free community college access across the nation. To that end, the White House is pushing ahead on its efforts to make free community college education a reality. At Macomb Community College in Michigan yesterday President Obama formally introduced a coalition of community college leaders, educators, businesses and foundations, and politicians who will work together to increase the different free two-year college models and bring in others interested in spreading the free tuition message nationwide.
This independent coalition, also known as the College Promise Advisory Board, will have Jill Biden, former Wyoming Governor Jim Geringer, and Martha Kanter, a New York University professor of higher education and former under secretary of education, as leaders.
Recognizing the shift from elective to required educational needs, Kanter said, “The predominant focus is that in the 21st ecentury, a high school diploma is not enough for success in the economy and society. People need an education beyond high school.” Urging college districts to increase access for all Kanter added, “The board will lend its expertise to help communities understand that investing in people who want higher education is worth it.”
Future Job Access Demands Higher Education
Future projections from the White House progress report on tuition free community college found that by 2020 an estimated 35 percent of the nation’s jobs openings will require at minimum a bachelor’s degree, while another 30 percent will require at least some college completed or an associate degree.
This inescapable reality is why the president and the White House have been pushing the America’s College Promise initiative, the effort to make two-year community college education tuition free. First announced in February, the plan was initially based on the Tennessee Promise, that state’s last-dollar program to provide two years of free college to its residents. Last-dollar programs fill the gap between a student’s financial aid package and the actual tuition.
The program template has grown and within the last six months five communities have begun free two-year college programs, including statewide programs in Oregon and Minnesota. Congressional Democrats too are advocating free tuition, and have proposed free community college legislation supporting the president’s plan.
Jim Geringer, of the coalition, said via email, “America’s community colleges came about because local communities believed in the promise that the opportunity to achieve a degree or technical training would benefit both their youth and their communities.” He added, “College Promise rekindles that same community spirit and affirms the ideal that education beyond high school matters. College Promise will be built upon local initiatives and local support enabled through a natural aspiration.”
Another effort the board will tackle is to raise awareness and emphasize the importance of community colleges overall with the Heads Up America campaign. The campaign will issue public service announcements to promote the free two-year college idea.
Ways to pay for free colleges will certainly be a concern, and one of the largest issues the board plans to tackle. According to La Guardia Community College President Gail Mellow, also an advisory board member, the board will be active for a minimum of three years.
Mellow offered, “This is an issue that will not be solved in a year or 18 months. It is a radical idea to the United States and it’s not a partisan issue. It’s an American issue about how we’re going to be as a country in this century.” She continued, ”Who we’re going to provide for and how we’re going to do that is a large and long-term issue.”
Free public education sounds like the American ideal that it is. Hopefully, follow-up with oversight for job preparation and achievement are inherent factors. Free tuition and free access are not alone enough to guarantee success.
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