Many Americans had not heard of the proposal to make 2 years of community college free until President Obama’s State of the Union address. Tennessee and Chicago, however, have long been working to make this plan a reality for their students.
At his State of the Union Address last month, President Obama formally announced his College Promise, emphasizing that “in America, a quality education cannot be a privilege that is reserved for a few,” and added that “certainly… nobody with that drive and discipline should be denied a college education just because they don’t have the money.” The President’s plan is based in part on Republican Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s announcement during his 2014 State of the State address, in which he promised two years of free community college or trade school.
“Tennessee will be the only state in the country to offer our high school graduates two years of community college with no tuition or fees,” he said. “We are also proposing last dollar scholarships for all adults- regardless of age or previous qualification for a HOPE scholarship – to attend [Tennessee technical colleges] free of charge.”
This plan will be put into action starting with the high school classes of 2015. The seniors of this academic year can apply for the Tennessee Promise Scholarship between August and November of this year, and may use the scholarship to attend any of the state’s 13 community colleges, 27 colleges of applied technology, or other eligible institutions offering an associate’s degree program.
Rahm Emmanuel, the Democratic Mayor of Chicago, announced a similar plan last fall for students attending a City Colleges of Chicago (CCCs). This plan is a scholarship program for high school students hoping to attend a CCC, and includes strict requirements for eligibility, such as a 3.0 GPA. Even so, Mayor Emmanuel is optimistic about the doors this program could open for Chicago students. “The Chicago Star Scholarships will open more doors of opportunity for more students in the City of Chicago,” said the Mayor. “Every student who is willing to work hard should have access to a quality education, regardless of whether they can afford it or not,” he continued.
President Obama’s College Promise would take the form of a matching grant program, in which the federal government would pay three quarters of tuition costs and the state would be responsible for paying the remaining amount. If adopted by all 50 states, the White House claims it would benefit as many as 9 million students annually, and save an average student around 4 thousand dollars.
Media Resources: WhiteHouse.gov Blog 2/8/15; TN State of the State Address 2/3/14; TennesseePromise.gov; City of Chicago Press Release 10/1/14; WhiteHouse.gov Press Release 1/09/15