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New Legislation Would Make Community College Free for Eligible Students

The soon-to-be-introduced America’s College Promise Act of 2015 aims to make two years of community college free for eligible students, and provide what proponents are calling an affordable pathway for low-income students to a four-year college degree.

In a press conference yesterday, Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis) declared that passage of the bill would effectively waive community college tuition and fees by allowing the federal government to provide a federal match of $3 for every $1 invested by a participating state.

“With this legislation,” Baldwin said, “a full-time community college student could save an average of $3,800 in tuition each year. In addition, America’s College Promise Act ensures the program offers academic credits that are fully transferrable to four-year institutions in their state, or to occupational training that leads to credentials in an in-demand industry.”

The new partnership between the federal government, states, and Indian tribes will specifically include “community, technical and tribal colleges, as well as creating a new program with minority-serving institutions to help low income students enroll and successfully complete a bachelor’s degree.”

Supporting organizations include the following:

  • American Association of Community Colleges;
  • Campaign for America’s Future;
  • Alliance for Equity in Higher Education;
  • American Community College Trustees;
  • United Negro College Fund;
  • Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities; and
  • Asian American and Pacific Islander Association of Colleges and Universities.

According to Baldwin, revised budget estimates on the cost of the bill amount to $90 billion over 10 years, broken down into $80 billion for the community college component and $10 billion for the minority-serving institution component. While the bill has not been officially introduced, Baldwin has heard from ten Senators who she expects to immediately sign on as cosponsors. “So far, it is all Democrats,” she said. “We certainly want it to become bipartisan.”

In prepared comments prior to the Q&A session, Baldwin outlined her reasons for the new legislation: “We all believe that every student in America deserves a fair shot at a higher education and a path toward the middle class. We also understand the need for America to out-educate the rest of the world to better compete globally in a 21st century, skills-based economy. All students deserve the opportunity to gain the skills and knowledge they need to succeed without drowning in student debt.”

The legislation is a response to President Obama’s State of the Union admonition for Congress to make “a bold investment in the nation’s students by making two years of community college free.”

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va), ranking member of the House Education and Workforce Committee, said: “When fully implemented, it [the legislation] has the potential of providing more than 9 million students, at 1,300 community colleges, a high quality, post-secondary education at a greatly reduced cost.”

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that states would not be required to participate, a move that he said, “Doesn’t make any sense to me.” He added that such a move would likely spark a “huge pushback,” but reiterated, “We would only partner with those states that are willing to invest.”

About the Author

Greg Thompson is a freelance writer based in Fort Collins, CO.

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