KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (CN) - President Obama on Friday announced a $60 billion, 10-year plan to provide two years of free community college to as many as 9 million students, in a visit to a community college in Knoxville.
The president touted his "America's College Promise" in a speech at Pellissippi State Community College.
Participating students would need to maintain a 2.5 grade point average, attend community college at least half-time and make steady progress toward their degree, Obama said.
He said the federal government would cover about 75 percent of the average cost for students, with participating states contributing the test of the tuition cost.
The White House estimates it would save families $3,800 per year and enroll 9 million students if all states participate.
"Community colleges should be free to those who are willing to work for it," the president said.
Obama's proposal is modeled after Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam's initiative, called Tennessee Promise, which provides free community college for Tennessee high school graduates for two years.
The Legislature approved Haslam's plan in May; the state's application deadline was Nov. 1. It attracted 58,000 applicants. Community college classes for Tennessee's program begin in August.
Obama said the program is about "helping every American afford a higher education."
Of the 21 million Americans who attend college, 7.3 million of them are in two-year schools, known as community colleges or junior colleges, according to the National Center of Educational Statistics.
Due to rising tuition costs, students are increasingly turning to more affordable community colleges for their first two years, then transferring to complete their 4-year college education.
The president praised Gov. Haslam and Tennessee Senators Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander for their leadership.
"In the past two years, Tennessee has improved their math and reading school more than any state in the country," Obama said. The president said that he and Sen. Alexander are working together to simplify the application process for federal aid.
Obama's proposal needs congressional approval. It is one three programs he is focusing on in visiting three states, Arizona, Michigan, and Tennessee, before his State of the Union address on Jan. 20.
Obama visited Detroit on Wednesday and spoke about the car industry's resurgence. In Arizona, he spoke about the housing industry and making home ownership more affordable.
After visiting Pellissippi State, Obama went to Techmer PM, a manufacturing plant in Clinton, where he announced an initiative to bring a manufacturing institute to Tennessee. It will be a called a new Manufacturing Innovation Institute for Advanced Composites, and will be led by the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, partnering with 122 companies, nonprofits, and other universities.
Federal funding will be about $70 million with $180 million in non-federal funds financing the institute. It focuses on advanced fiber-reinforced polymer composites such as carbon fiber combined with tough plastics. This material is used in the automotive, aircraft, and military industries and can weigh less and be stronger than steel.
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