Barack Obama Proposes Free Community College, Some Conditions May Apply

President Barack Obama announced plans to give students two years of community college free, so long as they maintain good grades. If the president’s new program is successful, it could reach nine million students, saving them on average $3,800 a year.

On the President’s Facebook page, Obama posted a message about the program while on Air Force One.

“Put simply, what I’d like to do is to see the first two years of community college free for everyone who’s willing to work for it.”

According to Time Magazine, the program would work as a federal-state partnership. The federal government would pay about 75 percent of the costs, while the participating states would cover the rest of the community college expenses.

White House Domestic Policy Director Cecilia Munoz was quick to emphasize the importance of the idea.

“This is a moment that is equivalent to the moment when we made high school universal.”

Still, Barack Obama was a bit light on the details. It’s still unclear how much the program would cost or which states have shown an interest. According to some basic number crunching at USA Today, $3,800 annually, with nine million participants, would put the program at $34.2 billion.

Annual tax revenues for the federal government are about $3 trillion according to the Tax Policy Center. Although the total budget is still in a deficit, the program sounds like it could be financially viable with only minor cuts to other areas. Moreover, if the community college training leads to higher paying jobs, which would then lead to more tax revenue, perhaps the program would pay for itself.

There are some obstacles for Barack Obama to making the program happen. Free community college would require legislation. Whether the President can push the new education spending bill through Congress, with both houses dominated by Republicans, seems dubious.

Obama said that he would lay out the full details in his next State of the Union address.

Nevertheless, Obama’s new plan has the potential to upgrade the skills of millions of Americans still struggling for high wages in an increasingly competitive world economy.

President Obama did lay out some of the conditions for students. To receive funding, participants would have to maintain a 2.5 GPA and be enrolled at least half-time.

Barack Obama is currently on a pre-State of the Union address tour, giving speeches across the country. In his Facebook announcement, the President said he was going to Tennessee to discuss education. He may leak a few more details there. Otherwise, America will have to wait for the State of the Union address on January 20.

Barack Obama’s full message can be found on Facebook.

[Image Credit: Marco Schulze/Wikimedia Commons]