White House Adding $100M Program to Tuition-free Community College Push - Higher Education
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White House Adding $100M Program to Tuition-free Community College Push

by Catherine Morris

The White House will roll out a $100 million program to strengthen tuition-free community college programs across the United States early this summer, White House officials said on Monday. Vice President Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, formally announced the grant program at the Community College of Philadelphia on Monday afternoon.

The competitive grant program will offer $100 million to community colleges “to expand high quality education and training programs that give Americans the skills most in-demand from regional employers for middle- to high-skilled jobs,” according to a White House press release.

The grant program is to be administered through the U.S. Department of Labor, and funded by H1-B visa application fees. The H1-B visa is a temporary work permit for foreign workers with specialized training.

President Obama first proposed America’s College Promise, a program that would help make community college free for more Americans who meet certain academic requirements, in January 2015. Last July, legislation modeled after the president’s vision for America’s College Promise was put forward in Congress. The proposed bill has Democratic support, but is currently awaiting further action from Congress.

In the meantime, a number of states and municipalities have already created promise programs of their own. Tennessee, for instance, is leading the way for many other states and cities with the Tennessee Promise program, which makes community college tuition free for students who maintain a 2.5 GPA and attend school at least half time. The Tennessee Promise also served as one of the models for America’s College Promise.

Since the president announced the America’s College Promise proposal in 2015, a total of 27 states and cities announced promise programs of their own, White House officials said Monday. “States and communities are demonstrating that there’s a range of thoughtful and effective ways to design tuition-free promise programs, customized to address local knowledge and skills needs, funding opportunities and shared community goals,” Cecilia Muniz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, said in a press call.

Oregon, Minnesota and Rhode Island have announced free community college programs of their own since 2015. The Community College of Philadelphia, where the Bidens spoke on Monday, announced a tuition-free initiative in April 2015.

Recipients of the newly announced America’s Promise Grants are expected to use the funds to scale up existing tuition-free programs, to expand employer partnerships, and to strengthen education and training performance at community colleges.

“The new $100 million American College Promise grant competition will build on the steps we’ve taken to fix our job training system and scale up successful job-driven training programs across the country,” Jeff Zients, director of the National Economic Council and assistant to the president for economic policy, said in a press call. “America’s Promise grant competition will help place workers from all backgrounds into good jobs, by requiring training partnerships to use real-time information about local job demands and design and update their training over time, to place a special emphasis on supporting workers who have struggled to find those pathways to the middle class and to demonstrate that their graduates are getting well-paying jobs.”

Staff writer Catherine Morris can be reached at cmorris@diverseeducation.com.

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