NY TIMES: Obama, in Tennessee, Begins Selling His Community College Tuition Plan

Career College Central Summary:

  • KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — In California, community college tuition and fees average less than $1,500 a year, the lowest in the nation, and with government grants, most students pay nothing. In Florida and Michigan, the cost is over $3,000, yet poorer students still attend free. But in Vermont and New Hampshire, prices are around $7,000, well over what government grants cover.
  • That broad range means that President Obama’s proposal to make community college tuition-free nationwide — if Congress and the states were to embrace it — would benefit every student of the two-year colleges, but that far greater benefits would go to students in the states with the highest tuition. And while it would aid the economically hard-pressed, it would also effectively extend federal aid to millions of middle- and upper-income students who do not qualify for it currently.
  • Introducing his proposal here on Friday, Mr. Obama vowed to make college affordable for all Americans by investing $60 billion over the next 10 years to provide free community college tuition to as many as nine million students a year across the country. If Congress and the states adopted his plan, the president said, “two years of college will become as free and universal as high school is today.”
  • But even as Mr. Obama hosted three Republican lawmakers from Tennessee on Air Force One for the trip from Washington, his adversaries on Capitol Hill showed little interest in signing on to a new and costly initiative that extends the federal government’s reach into education policy, no matter that it is modeled partly on a program created by Tennessee’s Republican governor, Bill Haslam.
  • Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, who was in the audience after traveling with the president, praised Mr. Haslam for helping students pay for community college, but said he did not think a new federal program was the way to go.
  • “You’re always better off letting states mimic each other,” he told reporters before the president’s remarks.
  • Even if his plan gains no traction in Congress, the president is laying claim to a big idea at a time when lawmakers are planning to renegotiate the Higher Education Act that governs federal financing of college education. Democrats believe that tackling the cost of college is an issue that plays to their strengths — one they can run on in 2016. Still, not all of them were comfortable with the plan.
  • Representative Steve Cohen, Democrat of Tennessee, questioned Mr. Obama’s choice to model his plan after his state’s community college initiative, arguing that the program helps more affluent and lower-achieving students rather than those with the greatest financial need and the best chance of excelling academically. 
  • "He shouldn’t be holding Tennessee Promise out as a model because it’s not a model; it’s a facade to cover up what is a dying system that hasn’t been funded," said Mr. Cohen, an architect of Tennessee’s HOPE college program, which rewards students for achievement.

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