It’s an audacious plan — to basically change K-12 public education to K-14 — but President Barack Obama doubled down on his Heads Up America proposal of free community college last week. He first broached the American College Promise in January in his State of the Union address, but it was clear that the odds of a successful Congressional act to address a new $60 billion educational investment would be long. A Hail Mary pass plus a two-point conversion long.
But at Macomb Community College in Warren, Mich., on Wednesday he called education “the secret sauce to America’s success,” referred to “a Movement going on,” and unveiled an advisory board of educators, business and non-profits leaders and politicians who will study different models and spread the word about free tuition. The advisory board — chaired by Dr. Jill Biden — is available here.
“I’ve been focused on community colleges,” Obama said in his speech. “They are at the heart of the American dream. For every young person willing to work hard, I want community college to be as free and universal as high school. It’s easy for politicians to say young people are the future. But you’ve got to walk the walk. No kid should be priced out of a college education. No hardworking young person should be denied just because of where they started. You don’t have to necessarily go to a four-year degree to get a good job, but you need to have some specialized skills.”
This initiative has recently been formalized in Tennessee and Oregon and is being piloted in Minnesota. It has also been established by community college systems in places like Miami, Chicago, Seattle and Philadelphia.
Threading the needle with an act of Congress is not required. Colleges, cities and states have already created incentives and motivations for students that are “willing to work for it” and there is significant federal money already out there. What’s needed is awareness, courage, will and additional funds to close the gaps.
President Obama and Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan will be speaking about college access and affordability on Monday at North High School in Des Moines, Iowa, as part of Duncan’s annual back-to-school bus tour. Without question, one of the topics will be the Department of Education’s new College Scoreboard, which is a massive collection of data regarding success, debt and income of those receiving financial aid or loans from the federal government. Click here for a fascinating piece on how the data was collected and prepared for public consumption.