86487819Last Friday, President Obama officially announced his plan to make the first two years of community college free for all Americans who are willing to work for it. At an event hosted by Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and Senator Lamar Alexander, President Obama outlined the administration’s America’s College Promise, modeled off of innovative initiatives in Tennessee and Chicago that have made strong community colleges and technical training programs free to hard-working students.

As Vice President Biden stated at the event, “12 years is not enough.” Given the future of the global economy, we must ensure that all Americans have an equal opportunity to pursue the types of higher education and job training programs that will be required for over 60 percent of job openings by the year 2020. However, it is essential for students and community colleges to hold up their end of the bargain. Under the President’s proposal, students would be required to maintain at least a 2.5 GPA as well as show steady progress towards completing their degree or program in order to be eligible. On the other hand, community colleges must also guarantee that all credits are transferable to four-year public schools or training programs that have a history of graduating students and placing them in high-demand job fields. Given the accountability measures for both students and colleges, those participating in the program will be much more likely to complete their degree and potentially move on to four-year colleges or technical training programs that are shown to boost lifetime earnings.

Although the America’s College Promise will surely require significant investment from both federal and state government, it is the type of investment that will pay huge dividends as America’s workforce is bolstered with in influx of highly educated and trained individuals. If all states participate in the program by covering the remaining ¼ of the cost not funded by the federal government, it is estimated that up to 9 million students will save an average of $3,800 each year. These savings will alleviate the pressure of student debt, especially for young people pursuing jobs in much needed fields like teaching and nursing. First Focus stands with the President when he says, “No one with the drive and discipline should be left out.” All young people in the U.S. should have access to high-quality higher education, regardless of where they come from, if they are willing to work for it. America’s College Promise is certainly a step in the right direction.

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