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Obama Advances America's College Promise Initiative

October 5, 2015

President Obama is intensifying his efforts to make community college free to students who qualify. On September 9, he announced the formation of a new advisory board and an organization to promote the importance of the sector.

Led by Jill Biden and directed by former undersecretary of Education Martha Kanter, the College Promise Advisory Board is a group of leaders primarily from community colleges, education foundations, and large corporations who will work to promote community college education. The group will also oversee Heads Up, a new organization that aims to raise awareness of the importance of community college.

The administration's overarching goal is to make two years of community college "as free and universal as high school" to qualifying students through a combination of federal and state funds. Under the plan, the federal government would provide 75 percent of the funds to states who committed to the project. (The president's proposal estimates the cost to be $60 billion over 10 years). States would have to provide the remaining quarter of funds.

To qualify for the program, students would need to be enrolled at least half-time, maintain a 2.5 GPA, and make steady progress toward completion. Only students from families with an adjusted gross income of $200,000 or less would be eligible.

Free community college programs already exist in several states, including Tennessee and Oregon, the administration noted in a recently released progress report. Eleven others are considering their own legislation, and the America's College Promise Act of 2015, introduced by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), is pending in Congress.

Given current partisan divides over federal spending, it is highly unlikely this new program will be approved in the FY16 budget cycle. Elements of the proposal will be under consideration as lawmakers set out to reauthorize the Higher Education Act in the coming months, but the sizable cost of the plan is a significant hurdle.

Institutions and individuals interested in supporting these efforts can find a toolkit at the Heads Up website.


Liz Clark
Senior Director, Federal Affairs