Obama To Propose A Free Community College Plan Similar To Tennessee Promise
President Obama addresses a small group at Casa Azafran in South Nashville. Credit: Bobby Allyn/WPLN

Obama To Propose A Free Community College Plan Similar To Tennessee Promise

President Obama addresses a small group at Casa Azafran in South Nashville in December to talk about immigration reform. Credit: Bobby Allyn / WPLN
President Obama addresses a small group at Casa Azafran in South Nashville in December to talk about immigration reform. No one in the Republican congressional delegation attended. Tennessee’s governor and both U.S. Senators will attend his education speech in Knoxville Friday. Credit: Bobby Allyn / WPLN

Updated Thursday, 6:30 p.m.

In President Obama’s third visit to Tennessee in the past year, he will be announcing a proposal that would make community college free for all Americans, called America’s College Promise. Details are still emerging, but it could look similar to Tennessee Promise.

Obama released a Facebook video Thursday evening saying he will commend Tennessee on its education reform and then propose a way to make college accessible for everyone:

“Put simply, what I’d like to see is for the first two years of community college to be free for anybody who’s willing to work for it.”

Education, he said, “is the key to success for our kids in the 21st century. But what we also understands is, it’s not just for kids. We also have make sure that everybody has the opportunity to constantly train themselves for better jobs, better wages, better benefits.”

That’s a similar concept to Tennessee Promise, except Tennessee’s version only extends to graduating high school seniors.

According to the White House, federal funding would cover three quarters of the average cost of community college. Individual states would have to opt in and pay the rest.

Obama will be speaking at Pellissippi State, one of the largest community colleges in Tennessee. He is then visiting a plastics company in Clinton to talk about efforts to create manufacturing jobs.

Welcome From Republicans

Obama visited Nashville in February to laud the school district’s improvement and again in December to tout his immigration action. But this time, as he discusses new initiatives in helping Americans go to college, he’ll be greeted by top Republican lawmakers.

At Obama’s last two visits, Gov. Bill Haslam, Sen. Lamar Alexander and Sen. Bob Corker — along with the state’s Republican representatives in Congress — weren’t in attendance. But all three have their schedules cleared for this visit, according to their offices.

The White House also invited Haslam to a higher education summit in Washington last month. Obama didn’t talk about Tennessee Promise specifically, but he did mention affordability.

“When it comes to the cost of college, there’s a frustration in a middle class that feels like folks at the top can afford it, folks at the bottom get help,” he said. “There’s nobody looking out for folks in the middle.”

Tennessee Promise will start with this year’s graduating seniors. More than 56,000 students applied for the scholarship — about 90 percent of high school seniors in the state — although officials have said they only expect about 12,000 to actually use it next fall.

Emily Siner

Emily Siner is an enterprise reporter at WPLN. She has worked at the Los Angeles Times and NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., and her written work was recently published in Slices Of Life, an anthology of literary feature writing. Born and raised in the Chicago area, she is a graduate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. On Twitter: @SinerSays
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