President Proposes Two Years Free Community College, Technical Training Fund

By Kermit Kaleba, January 09, 2015

President Obama today announced two major proposals intended to increase access to high-quality skills training, including an initiative to make two years of community college education free for up to 9 million qualifying students, and new investments in technical training programs.

The President’s proposed “America’s College Promise” initiative would designate new federal funding to cover up to 75 percent of tuition costs for two years of community college, with states expected to contribute funds to ensure the full cost of tuition is covered for participating students. The program would be open to “responsible” individuals who are enrolled in qualifying programs on at least a half-time basis, maintain at least at least a 2.5 GPA, and make steady progress toward program completion. Funds could be used to support enrollment in either academic programs that fully transfer to public four-year colleges and universities, or for occupational training programs with high graduation rates that lead to certificates or degrees in demand with employers. Participating states must also commit to maintaining support for current investments in higher education, improve coordination between secondary and postsecondary systems to reduce the need for remediation, and allocate at least some funding on the basis of performance rather than enrollment.

The administration estimates the program would lead to an average of $3,800 in tuition savings annually for as many as 9 million students if all states participate in the program.

The President is also proposing a new American Technical Training Fund that would support up to 100 innovative training programs at community colleges and other institutions designed to help low-wage workers gain the skills necessary for advancement in middle-skill occupations and industries. Building on lessons learned through the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) initiative, the proposed fund would support the implementation and expansion of programs that have strong employer partnerships, are structured to accommodate part-time work, and provide work-based learning and accelerated training opportunities.

The President will make the announcement at Pellissippi State Community College in Tennessee. The administration’s community college proposal is modeled off of similar initiatives in Tennessee and Chicago. The Tennessee Promise program – set to begin this fall – will cover community college tuition for all high school seniors in the state beyond what is covered by Pell grants and other financial aid.

While the President’s proposal would make college a reality for millions of students, it does not in its current form extend the benefit to working people who are only able to attend school less than half-time while holding down a job and supporting their families.

Today’s announcement is one in a series of announcements of the President’s priorities for 2015, leading up to the State of the Union address on January 20. The President’s budget is due to be released two weeks after the address, and will contain more detailed information on the two proposals, including funding estimates. The America’s College Promise initiative is a legislative proposal, and requires approval by Congress. It is unclear whether the American Technical Training Fund is a legislative or executive proposal.

The announcement follows a year of action by the administration on job-driven training. During last year’s State of the Union address, President Obama directed Vice President Biden to conduct an across-the-board review of federal job-training programs that culminated in the summer release of the administration’s Job-Driven Training Action Plan. In addition to creating a number of new funding opportunities, including the Ready-to-Work grants serving the long-term unemployed, and the American Apprenticeship grants, the action plan introduced a job-driven checklist to guide administrative action on workforce development, including federal grant making.