Local college officials are curious to hear the details of President Barack Obama's proposal to provide two years of community college free to students.
Obama was expected to discuss the proposal during his State of the Union address Tuesday night.
“Obama's focus is increasing the number of college graduates,” said Cheryl Cox, senior vice president of academic affairs at Spartanburg Community College. “In line with that, how do you get more people into community college? Sometimes it helps to remove the perceived barriers. There's some possibilities and certainly, students could benefit from it. No-skill, low-skill jobs is a shrinking pot, and we know we need our population to go beyond high school.”
The program is expected to cost the federal government $60 billion over 10 years, according to the White House, and it faces a Republican Congress against big new spending programs, the Associated Press reported.
According to White House estimates, 9 million students could eventually participate and save an average of $3,800 in tuition per year if they attend full-time. Students would qualify if they attend at least half-time, maintain a 2.5 GPA and make progress toward completing a degree or certificate program. Participating schools would have to meet certain academic requirements.
The White House said the federal government would pick up 75 percent of the cost and the final quarter would come from states that opt into the program.
Obama's proposal is inspired by Tennessee Promise, which begins this fall and will be paid for with interest from the Tennessee Education Lottery funds. It will allow high school graduates to attend community or technical colleges for free, picking up the remainder of the tuition tab for students who have already received financial aid, and will pay students' full tuition if they've received no aid.
Cherokee County has a similar program to Tennessee Promise, in which the county pays the remainder of tuition for students who have received some financial aid and are attending SCC's Cherokee County campus, Cox said. She said Obama's proposal could help the working poor, who may not have the money in their pockets to attend a two-year college, but don't qualify for as much financial aid.
“They would benefit the most from this proposal,” she said.
Spartanburg Methodist College, while a two-year college, would not fall under Obama's proposal because it's a private, liberal arts college, President Colleen Perry Keith said in a written statement.
Keith said if the program were approved, that it would likely not have a great impact on admissions at SMC.
“SMC partners with the generous financial aid programs in the state and already offers free tuition to LIFE scholarship recipients in South Carolina,” she said. “I suspect we will still get a strong number of LIFE scholars even under the president's proposed plan, assuming the LIFE Scholarship program is still in existence. Also, many students can already attend community colleges for free or nearly for free given the state and federal aid programs that currently exist for qualified students and the lower cost of attendance at community colleges.”
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