College Officials Support Obama’s Free-Tuition Plan

Promised / President Barack Obama toured classrooms at Forsyth County Technical Community College. / Shawn Rocco / TCM
California educates 60 percent of community college students for free

By Jovany Leon

Education officials support President Obama’s plan to offer free tuition for two years, but are unsure how it will be implemented.

America’s College Promise would require students to have at least a 2.5 GPA with part-time class enrollment. Students must also be on track to graduate in two years, or transfer to a four-year university.

“It’s an incredible opportunity to give post-secondary students across the nation the opportunity to pursue their post-secondary studies,” Santa Ana College Vice-President of Academic Affairs Omar Torres said.

Torres supports the president’s plan in principle, but he points out that there are issues to overcome.

“The practicality of what it’s going to cost and looking at added costs would be an interesting challenge,” Torres said.

Funding of free tuition is possible, according to Rancho Santiago Community College District Chancellor Raul Rodriguez.

If the proposal passed, Rodriguez said RSCCD would not be negatively affected. The district receives funding through the collection of property taxes, enrollment fees and state aid.

California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice W. Harris released a statement Jan. 20 supporting the president’s proposal to provide free tuition.“For our students and the economy, it’s time to work with federal partners to move back in this direction,” Harris said.

Until 1984, two-year colleges were free in California. As of 2012, residents pay about $46 per unit.

Sixty percent of students statewide do not have to pay for community college tuition based on need, Vice Chancellor Peter Hardash said. About 50 percent of students did not pay for tuition at Santa Ana College during the 2013-14 school year.

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President Obama’s plan would cost about $60 billion over 10 years, with states shouldering 25 percent of the cost.

If the government pays 75 percent of the costs, Hardash says, some of the existing funds the state already provides could go to other areas within the system.

“We would hope that this funding would be available for the college to offer more classes that students need and additional student support,” Hardash said.

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