President Obama Calls for Free Community College, Unveils America’s College Promise Proposal

LBCC President Eloy Oakley and Mayor Robert Garcia sign an extension of the Long Beach College Promise in October 2014.

Just over a month after Long Beach educational leaders made the trip to the Nation’s capital with hundreds of other college presidents and administrators and showcased the Long Beach College Promise (LBCP), President Barack Obama announced today his plan to invest $60 billion over the next decade in an effort to provide free community college education to students nationwide.

“Put simply, what I’d like to do is see the first two years of community college free for everybody who’s willing to work for it,” Obama said in a video statement recorded on-board Air Force One Thursday.

Under the plan, named America’s College Promise Proposal (ACP), which would be contingent on individual states adopting it, over 9 million community college students across the country could find financial relief. The government would fund nearly 75 percent of the cost of tuition with participating states expected to pick up the remainder of the tab. California alone has nearly 3 million students who attend community college. Long Beach Community College President Eloy Oakley said the President’s proposal reflects what the city has been doing for years with the LBCP.

“I think it reinforces what we’re trying to do in Long Beach in regard to trying to get students to finish their degree faster, encouraging more students to come out of high school prepared and willing and able to attend a local college and move on to a university,” Oakley said. “I think we all share the president’s belief that many, many more Americans need some sort of post-secondary credential.”

The LBCP already offers one free semester of community college tuition to all Long Beach Unified School District students and guarantees those eligible to transfer an enrollment spot at California State University Long Beach, a university that is consistently one of the most applied to schools in the country. 

Oakley pointed out that under the stipulations of the ACP —which would require students to carry a 2.5 grade point average and be actively making progress toward a certification or transfer to a university— roughly 75 percent of students currently enrolled at LBCC would qualify for free tuition due in large part to Long Beach’s established curriculum that pushes students toward being college ready and eventual graduation and/or transfer.

Mayor Robert Garcia, who along with Oakley, has worked diligently to continue to improve the LBCP, most recently expanding it to include a focus on attainable quality pre-school programs and an increased focus on internships in the city, said that investing education benefits multiple parties. And that the fact that the two programs’ names are closely linked might not be a coincidence.

“I think the Long Beach College Promise is clearly a national and state model,” Garcia said. “It’s been a very successful program and clearly any efforts to expand access to education, particularly at the community college level is really great for the local economy. It’s great for students, it’s great for the work force.”

Ultimately, it will be up to state legislators to adopt the proposal, something that both Oakley and Garcia are optimistic about. Oakley explained that given the amount of money California already provides, especially to community college students in the form of the Board of Governors Fee Waiver, which provides low-income students, veterans and other students in need of financial assistance the ability to attend community colleges without paying tuition, adoption of the proposal looks promising. Oakley estimated that around 80 percent of LBCC students currently utilize the governor’s fee waiver.

“California already provides very generous amounts of aid, in particular community college students,” Oakley said. “I think it’s certainly doable if we can align state aid with the program that the president is proposing. I think there’s enough money that California is putting on the table for state aid that could be used to make this opportunity a reality.”

Garcia, who for a short period was an instructor and for a longer time, an administrator at the community college level said that instructors will probably be excited by the prospect of having more students, especially ones who may have been driven away by an inability to afford a college education. Community college, Garcia said, services more than just kids coming out of high school. The changing economy has left many adults in need of retraining or searching for relevant careers so the adoption of this proposal could have lasting impacts on the local economy and the families that call Long Beach home.

“The research is pretty clear,” Garica said. “Research shows that if you have access to community college education you can get training or a skill or a transfer degree that your chances of success dramatically increase. As does your ability to make enough income to raise a family and take care of yourself.”

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