President Barack Obama has big goals regarding American education standards. A major part of his plan includes making the first two years of community college free for any student with a C+ average or better.

By 2020, Obama hopes that the United States will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world, and that community colleges will produce an additional five million of them.

His desire for an additional population of community college graduates stems from the increasing perceived need to have at least an associate’s degree in the professional world. Many community colleges also have pre-professional programs that liberal arts colleges lack.

To achieve his goal of a community college-educated United States citizenship, Obama has laid out several distinct strategies.

He has called on Congress to make the first two years of community college free for students, which would ensure participants an associate’s degree.

His plan for financing involves using federal government funding for 75 percent of the tuition and individual states funding the remainder.

This proposal is a controversial one. Opponents have called it a “Robin-Hood”-like plan that “borrows from the rich to give to the poor,” in the style of the cartoon vigilante.

For this reason, the program is likely to die on the floor of Congress. It is the first big push by the Obama administration towards affordable college.

There are stipulations to this proposal though. Students must maintain a 3.5 GPA in order to sustain the grant.

But the free tuition would still be an enormous help to students across the country. The White House estimates it would save 9 million students about $3,800 per year.

The program, however helpful, is not simple. Many questions have arisen. What impacts will the plan have on Obama’s annual budget? How will this proposal interact with the Pell Grant, a grant which is given to the socioeconomically disadvantaged college students who comprise 38 percent of community-college students?

There is sentiment from opponents of this program that suggests the initiative wouldn’t help its target population. The Pell Grant covers the most financially needy students. Obama’s program would primarily help students who come from middle-class families.

College has become increasingly hard to pay for, especially for members of middle-class families who fall through the cracks of financial aid. 

The number of students who borrow money, most often via loans, to pay for college has increased 70 percent in the past 10 years. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the total amount of student debt in the U.S. has more than tripled in the past 10 years, from $363 billion in 2005 to more than $1.2 trillion today.

Obam’s is based on a three-part plan: Helping more students go to college (access), helping them pay for it (affordability), and making sure universities do their best to make college affordable (accountability).

The program is modeled after a current, working initiative: The Tennessee Promise, Tennessee’s free community college program.  It has drawn 58,000 applicants, almost 90 percent of the state’s high school seniors, and more than twice as many as expected.

But many Republicans remain skeptical.

“With no details or information on the cost, this seems more like a talking point than a plan,” said Cory Fritz, a spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, through the New York Times.

The Obama administration was quick to rcounter.

“It’s something that we can accomplish, and it’s something that will train our work force so that we can compete with anybody in the world,” Obama said in a video posted by the White House.

All in all, it is a bi-partisan sentiment that community college is a large part of the American education culture, and one that needs to be at least somewhat subsidized by the federal government.

According to the New York Times, 7.7 million U.S. community college students attend community college for credit, 3.1 million of whom attend full time.

The federal government provides about $9.1 billion to community colleges, about 16 percent of the total revenue the colleges receive. Tuition from students provides about 30 percent of the revenue.

Governmental funding of community-college endeavors is no new issue, but has drawn mixed views from the general public. Time will tell if Obama’s proposal can be deemed a success.


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