Lawmakers Introduce Free Community College Bill

| by Ethan Brown

In an apparent attempt to fulfill a promise set by President Barack Obama during his State of the Union address earlier this year, members of Congress are now working on legislation that will eliminate all tuition costs of community college throughout the country.

Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Democratic Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia are expected to introduce their legislation in the U.S. Capitol building later today, the Huffington Post reports. The bill, titled the America’s College Promise Act will provide a federal match of triple the value of every dollar that states invest in providing free college education to students who attend two-year institutions, according to the Huffington Post.

Other additions to the legislation are focused on assisting African-American and other minority students receive a four year degree at a reduced rate than other students. For example, any student attending a black college or other learning institution would be eligible to have the first two years of their four year program paid for by the state.

If every state participates in the program, the lawmakers believe as many as nine million students could save up to $3,800 in tuition costs and payments. Thus, the community college tuition for students would be paid for by the state and federal government.

“Understand, you’ve got to earn it – you’ve got to keep your grades up and graduate on time,” the President said during his speech in February.

More recently, Obama traveled to Baldwin’s home state and credited her with taking the first steps to make his idea come to fruition.

“Now, in an economy that’s constantly changing, we’ve also got to give every American the chance to earn the skills they need to stay competitive," Obama said on July 2. "That’s why we’ve got to be investing in job training and apprenticeships that help folks earn the skills for that new job or better-paying job. That’s why we should make community college free for responsible students – like Tammy Baldwin is introducing in the United States Senate."

However, none of the Democrats supporting this idea have stated the final cost of the program. According to the New American, “the federal government program would add $6 billion to the government’s already bloated educational assistance programs, which already run $70 billion (not counting the $100 billion + in student loans).”

Also, the legislation requires that every state needs to participate in order for the idea to be a success in the long run.

Supporters of free education point to Tennessee, where community college education is free. While the program is a success, it is not run by the federal government and does not receive federal funds.

Oregon just became the second state (after Tennessee) to grant free education to students attending two year institutions. According to the state Senate Bill 81, students must apply for and receive grants from the federal government in order for the state of Oregon to pay the costs of the education. Those who are eligible must also have lived in Oregon for at least one year and maintain a 2.5 grade point average. The legislation was introduced by State Sen. Mark Hass, a Democrat, who spoke about the bill at the end of May.

“A lifetime of food stamps is much more expensive than the annual community college tuition of $3,000,” he said at the time.

Sources: The New American, The Huffington Post, Willamette Week

Photo Credit: WikiCommons, State Farm/Flickr, Will Folsom/Flickr