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 Further Information on President Obama’s Community College Proposal 

1/9/2015

Today, President Obama formally unveiled his “America’s College Promise” proposal aimed at community colleges. In dollar terms, it is larger than his proposed American Graduation Initiative (AGI) of 2009, with the key difference that there is not a ready financing source. In addition, this proposal is focused squarely on helping make community college more affordable for students. The proposal is a state grant program, and a variety of state and institutional requirements would have to be met.

The fact sheet for the proposal can be found on the White House website. AACC’s statement is available on our website.

The proposal also includes the American Technical Training Fund. This fund will award programs that have strong employer partnerships and include work-based learning opportunities, provide accelerated training, and are scheduled to accommodate part-time work. Programs could be created within current community colleges or other training institutions. This program will fund the start-up of 100 centers and scale those efforts in succeeding years.

The proposal is complicated and many details have been left unaddressed. Things to keep in mind about the tuition portion of the proposal:

  • Unofficial estimates indicate that the proposed federal support for community college students is about $6 billion per year – more than half the funds received by community college students each year through the Pell Grant program. With state matching funds it becomes approximately $8 billion in total. In other words, this is a tremendous level of proposed support to make community college more affordable.
  • The program would make many community college programs free, but it would not make all community college tuitions zero. Furthermore, the conditions on which individual programs (either transfer-oriented or career/technical focused) would be approved for the tuition are not fully defined. The elaboration of these conditions through potential legislation would be critical.
  • The proposal continues the president’s emphasis on increased postsecondary attainment, emphasizing that the first 2 years of postsecondary education at a community college should be as universally available as K–12 education.
  • States would have to participate in the program in order for colleges to be eligible. They would be required to provide matching funding, engage in certain specific policies including performance-based state funding, and commit to some type of maintenance of effort.  AACC has long supported policies designed to prevent states from de-investing in higher education.
  • The proposal is, in several ways, broader than the state and local programs, such as those in Tennessee and Chicago, that inspired it. Adult students, and not just recent high school graduates, would benefit from this proposal. Students attending at least half time, but not necessarily full time, would also benefit.
  • The proposal would enable students to continue to qualify for all federal student financial aid, including Pell Grants and Direct Loans, so the proposed reduction in tuition would not be offset in any way.
  • The proposal undoubtedly faces a tough challenge in Congress. In a nutshell, Congress is not in a mode of increasing funding for proven existing programs, much less undertaking ambitious new initiatives. That said, support for community colleges, and particularly their students, remains strong. It is possible that aspects of the proposal will be incorporated into the Higher Education Act.
  • Critical features of the proposal are not yet known (and in truth may not yet be known by the Administration).

For more information, please contact David Baime, Senior VP for Government Relations and Policy Analysis, dbaime@aacc.nche.edu, 202.4126.4500.

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