Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

America's College Promise Act Will Impact 9 Million at Community Colleges and MSIs

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

America's College Promise Act Will Impact 9 Million at Community Colleges and MSIs

Article excerpt

When President Barack Obama announced his plan to make community college free for recent high school graduates in January, the idea was greeted with consternation from many parties. The concept sounded a bit farfetched, considering that all trends point to less federal and state investment in the nation's institutions of higher education, rather than more.

Still, the idea generated a great deal of interest. Tennessee and Chicago have already successfully implemented a similar plan, proving that it could be done.

Momentum is building in other states, too. In July, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed off on a bill to make community college free for high school graduates. Oregon is expected to adopt a free community college program in 2016-17.

On July 8, Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., and Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., proposed America's College Promise Act, which would make community college free and reduce the financial burden for students at minority-serving institutions (MSIs). The bill would require some buy-in from the states, with the federal government covering 75 percent of the cost, and states contributing the remaining 25 percent. On average, students at community college could expect to save $3,800 on their tuition and fees each year.

Under the Obama administration's plan for free community college, in order to be eligible, students would have to maintain a 2.5 GPA and attend school at least half time. Similarly, under the congressional plan, students would have to attend community college for the first time and on at least a half-time basis.

The new plan differs from the administration's proposal in that students would have to maintain "satisfactory" academic progress as defined by the Higher Education Act, or a cumulative C average.

Baldwin and Scott's bill would also increase funding for minority-serving institutions, by covering tuition and fees at tribal colleges and universities. It would also provide grants to other MSIs, such as HBCUs and Hispanic-serving institutions. The grants would go toward covering students' tuition and fees for two years, although the per-student amount could not exceed the national average cost of tuition and fees at a public, four-year institution.

MSIs would qualify for grants if at least 35 percent of their students were low income or Pell eligible. Institutions would also have to agree to adopt certain institutional reforms, such as ensuring articulation agreements with community colleges, reforming remedial education, and developing distance learning and competency-based education programs, among other goals.

Obama's original proposal was expected to cost $60 billion over 10 years and impact an estimated 9 million students. Under the newly proposed bill, the cost would rise to $90 billion over 10 years. …

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