Community College: New & Free

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Heads Up America — the awareness campaign for President Obama’s College Promise initiative — is being celebrated on community college campuses this week.

Here at Cities of Promise, we have pulled together a list of two-year college programs which are already in place to provide tuition assistance for its local student body.

Two-year colleges have been around since 1901, when Joliet Junior College in Illinois became a public college offering two years of programming. And now, envisioning college of tomorrow, U.S. News reports that 20 percent of the student bodies at some colleges already have bachelor’s degrees and are adding important job skills for the future.

The roster is deep. Among community college attendees have been astronaut Eileen Collins, businessmen Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, George Lucas and Ross Perot, poet Gwendolyn Brooks, Emmy Award winner Jim Lehrer, baseball Hall of Famers Jackie Robinson and Nolan Ryan, funnymen Robin Williams, Eddie Murphy and Billy Crystal, singers Salt-N-Pepa, Faith Hill and Queen Latifah and an array of actors which include Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, Tom Hanks and Gabrielle Union.

In explaining the history of community college, Time Magazine’s Sean Trainor recently wrote:

Clamoring for both physical and economic access to college learning at a moment when advanced education was becoming key to social mobility (sound familiar?), Americans of a populist persuasion were responsible for the egalitarian streak of the junior colleges that opened beginning in 1901.

Inexpensive, often publically funded, and open to a wider cross-section of Americans than many of their four-year counterparts, these junior colleges were celebrated as “people’s colleges.” Though a far cry from full inclusivity, these male-dominated, majority-white schools nevertheless catered to a broader swath of working-class Americans than nearly any other contemporary educational institution.

Cities of Promise stands in support of our nation’s community colleges and the Heads Up America movement.

Will This Be The Face?

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Cities of Promise has often referred to the broad range of scholarship-centric initiatives as “the Promise movement.” And hasn’t every social movement in modern history pushed forward with the establishment of an identifiable face?

So a question for those in education circles is this: Will LeBron James — the global icon who just committed more than $50 million to pay for college scholarships for Akron students — become the “Face of Promise?”

One could reasonably argue that he already is. His announcement came on Friday afternoon and within 24 hours coverage came from a broad range of media — from CNN to ESPN, from Time Magazine to TMZ, from Essence to the Grio, from the Washington Post to the Chicago Tribune to USA Today, and from Fortune to Mashable. His donation is one of the biggest individual commitments in Promise history.

But yet another credible argument would be, “let’s just wait and see.” There is no question of his amazing reach — primarily as an 11-time NBA All-Star with five straight trips to the NBA Finals. He is also a well-known pitchman for enormous companies and Judd Apatow recently called him a “weirdly good actor” after his performance in “Trainwreck.”

His ability to draw attention to the Promise movement would be unparalleled. But will he leverage his gift to his hometown, its students and its largest university to bring attention to programs outside of Akron? Will his focus on his hometown spawn similar programs from other celebrities?

Boy, do we hope so. We’ll just wait and see.