Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) — Free community college for all. Conversation-starter? Definitely. Political possibility? Not any time soon.
President Obama unveiled the idea in a video posted to Facebook on Thursday night. But administration officials provided no price tag, no legislation, and little evidence of Republican support on Capitol Hill.
But the White House says that’s beside the point at this stage.
The president hopes “to start a conversation,” Obama domestic policy adviser Cecilia Munoz told reporters.
She couldn’t estimate the cost for the proposal, though back of the envelope calculations suggest it would cost tens of billions of dollars a year. The Republican Congress would need to pass legislation to fund it. State governments would need to each act as well.
The administration likens the dream to its universal pre-K proposal from State of the Union two years ago; that one has languished on the Hill but does have some bipartisan support.
A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner reacted to the community college proposal with skepticism. “With no details or information on the cost, this seems more like a talking point than a plan,” Cory Fritz said in a statement.
Still, the notion of free community college is tantalizing to many. Democrats envision a system akin to free the nation’s public high school system which is funded jointly by state and federal governments.
Broadly, the White House sketches it out this way:
- Two years free community college for students who attend at least half-time, maintain a 2.5 GPA, and remain enrolled.
- Community colleges would have to allow students to transfer to four-year schools and/or train in high-demand occupational areas.
- Federal funding would pay for 3/4th; states would pay 1/4th.
- The White House projects up to 9 million students could benefit if every state participates. Average savings $3800 in tuition per year.
- “What I’d like to do is see the first two years of community college free for everybody who’s willing to work for it,” Obama says in the Facebook video. “That’s something we can accomplish and it’s something that will train our workforce so that we can compete with anybody around the world.”
- There’s also the issue of capacity. The nation currently only has 1,100 community colleges. Some states that have individually dabbled in subsidized or free community college programs have seen their systems overwhelmed.
- As for the politics of it — White House points to red state Tennessee and Gov. Bill Haslam who pioneered a statewide program that provides free community college tuition for two years, signed into law last year. Some 57,000 students — or 90 percent of the state’s high school graduating class — applied, signaling high demand.
- Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will visit Knoxville, Tenn., on Friday to pitch the proposal as part of a presidential tour to preview the State of the Union.
Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.