Lawmakers Introduce Bill to Make Community College Free Across USA

WASHINGTON, D.C—Members of U.S. Congress introduced legislation on July 8 that would implement the Obama administration's effort to make technical schools and two-year community colleges free for low-income students. 

Roughly ten sponsors and over 60 cosponsors, led by Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Congressman Bobby Scott of Virginia, introduced the bill, known as "America's College Promise Act.

The idea was championed by President Barack Obama in his 2015 State of the Union address.

The plan would waive tuition for two-year community colleges and technical schools, and ensure the credits are transferable to four-year universities.  Students would be required to maintain part-time status and a minimum 2.5 GPA. 

It is expected to cost the federal government $90 billion over the next ten years. 

Eighty billion dollars of that would go towards community colleges, with the federal government covering 75% of the price tag and state governments picking up the remaining 25%. 

The other $10 billion would go towards providing free education for low-income students at four-year minority colleges, such as historically black and Hispanic colleges. 

Lawmakers estimate that,  should the bill pass, an extra 9 million students could be affected, and full-time students could save an average of $3,800 on tuition a year.

So far only one state, Tennessee, offers a program that waives tuition for community college.

Tennessee's program, known as Tennessee Promise, was one of the main influences for Obama's version of the nationwide proposal. 

Tennessee's version gives financial assistance to tuition and fees not covered by Pell grants and statewide student assistance funds. It covers roughly 25,000 students across 13 community colleges and 25 technical schools. 

Oregon legislators passed a similar law on July 7, and that bill now awaits the approval of Democrat Governor Kate Brown.

If approved, the program could begin in 2016, and is expected to impact between 10,000 and 12,000 students in Oregon. 

The Tennessee version has an annual cost projection of $34 million, compared to Oregons' projection of $10 million. Like the federal proposal, Tennessee and Oregon require that participating students maintain at least a C-average.