Obama Steps Up Push for Free

The president formally unveils new advisory board to further push the efforts of America's College Promise plan that would make two years of community college free nationally.

September 9, 2015

The White House is stepping up the effort to make tuition free at community colleges across the country.

President Obama will formally unveil a coalition of community college leaders, educators, politicians, foundations and businesses that will work to spread the existing, different free two-year college models and recruit others interested in pushing the free tuition message nationally during his visit today at Michigan's Macomb Community College.

The independent coalition, which will also be known as the College Promise Advisory Board, will be led by Jill Biden, former Wyoming Governor Jim Geringer and Martha Kanter, a professor of higher education at New York University and former under secretary of education. (A full list of the board's members is below.)

"The predominant focus is that in the 21st century, a high school diploma is not enough for success in the economy and society. People need an education beyond high school," Kanter said. "The board will lend its expertise to help communities understand that investing in people who want higher education is worth it."

By 2020, it's estimated 35 percent of job openings will require at least a bachelor's degree and another 30 percent will require at least some college or an associate degree, according to the White House's progress report on free community college.

The president and the White House have been working to push America's College Promise -- the initiative to make two years of community college free -- since it was announced in February. That plan was based on the Tennessee Promise, a statewide last-dollar program that provides two years of free college. That state's inaugural class of Promise students started classes this fall. Last-dollar programs cover the gap between a student's financial aid package and tuition.

So far, in just the past six months, five communities have created free two-year college programs, including statewide programs in Oregon and Minnesota. Congressional Democrats have also proposed free community college legislation backing Obama's plan.

"America's community colleges came about because local communities believed in the promise that the opportunity to achieve a degree or technical training would benefit both their youth and their communities," Geringer said in an email. "College Promise rekindles that same community spirit and affirms the ideal that education beyond high school matters. College Promise will be built upon local initiatives and local support enabled through a natural aspiration."

The board will also raise awareness and stress the importance of community colleges in general with the Heads Up America campaign. That campaign will release public service announcements encouraging the idea of making two years of community college free.

LaGuardia Community College President Gail Mellow, who is also a member of the advisory board, said one of the largest issues they plan to tackle is looking at the ways to pay for free community college. The advisory board will be in place for a minimum of three years, she said.

"This is an issue that will not be solved in a year or 18 months. It is a radical idea to the United States and it's not a partisan issue. It's an American issue about how we're going to be as a country in this century. Who we're going to provide for and how we're going to do that is a large and long-term issue," she said.

President Obama is also expected to unveil the Department of Labor's awarding of $175 million in American Apprenticeship Grants to 46 public-private partnerships that have pledged to train and hire more than 34,000 new apprentices in high-tech and high-growth industries within the next five years.

The members of the College Promise Advisory Board are:

  • Ellen Alberding, president and board member of the Joyce Foundation
  • Matthew Boulay, program officer for veterans' programs with Kisco Foundation
  • Noah Brown, president of the Association of Community College Trustees
  • Walter Bumphus, president of the American Association of Community Colleges
  • Christopher Cabaldon, mayor of West Sacramento
  • Phil Clegg, executive director for the American Student Association of Community Colleges
  • Alexandra Flores-Quilty, president of the United States Student Association
  • Brian Gallagher, president of United Way Worldwide
  • Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association
  • Richard George, president of Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation
  • Mark Haas, Oregon state senator
  • Anne Johnson, executive director of Generation Progress
  • Martha Kanter, professor of higher education at New York University and former U.S. under secretary of education
  • Chauncy Lennon, managing director of global philanthropy at JPMorgan Chase
  • Harold Levy, executive director of Jack Kent Cooke Foundation
  • Stanley Litow, president of IBM Foundation
  • Andrew Liveris, chief executive officer of the Dow Chemical Company
  • Joe May, chancellor of Dallas County Community College District
  • Gail O. Mellow, president of LaGuardia Community College
  • Jen Mishory, executive director of Young Invincibles
  • William F. L. Moses, managing director of education for Kresge Foundation
  • Eduardo Padron, president of Miami Dade College
  • Wade Randlett, chief executive officer of the transportation fuels division of General Biofuels
  • Lauren Segal, president of Scholarship America
  • Randy Smith, president of Rural Community College Alliance
  • Tom Snyder, president of Ivy Tech Community College
  • LaVerne Evans Srinivasan, president of education programs at Carnegie Corporation of New York
  • Karen Stout, president of Achieving the Dream
  • Scott Svonkin, president of the Board of Trustees, Los Angeles Community College District
  • William Swanson, chairman of Raytheon Company
  • Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.


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