Dept. of Education releases guide to expand free community college

The U.S. Department of Education released a guide Tuesday to offer K-12 students nationwide easier access to affordable secondary-level education. Tennessee students already have that option.

The U.S. Department of Education released a guide Tuesday to offer K-12 students nationwide easier access to affordable secondary-level education.

The guide is inspired by President Barack Obama’s plan to make two years of community college free for “responsible students" nationwide.

John B. King Jr., the U.S. Education Secretary, said Tuesday that two years of a free community college is a “game-changer.”

Read: The American College Promise Playbook

King is set to visit Knoxville’s Pellissippi State Community College on Tuesday as part of the Department of Education’s Opportunity Across America Bus Tour. Obama originally announced the America’s College Promise proposal at Pellissippi State in January 2015. The proposal was inspired by Tennessee’s efforts.

King will also visit Bristol and Chattanooga on Tuesday, and he will visit Memphis on Wednesday.

Since President Obama’s announcement, at least 36 free community college programs have launched throughout the country. There are more than 150 free community college programs, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

The playbook released Tuesday offers strategies on how communities can develop programs to:

  • Expand college access for hard-working students through tuition-free community colleges.
  • Strengthen and reform the community college experience to promote gains in student enrollment, persistence, completion or transfer with subsequent completion at a four-year institution, and employment.
  • Prepare students for continued education and/or high-demand, middle-class jobs.  

The playbook also outlines five steps communities in launching successful America’s College Promise programs.

  1. Identifying community needs and opportunities.
  2. Building a team and developing partnerships to strengthen educational quality.
  3. Designing a high-quality program that serves the community’s and students’ needs.
  4. Developing a sustainable funding model.
  5. Evaluating and assessing program effectiveness to learn what works for continuous improvement.

Tennessee Promise serves more than 16,000 students, and gives high school graduates two years of free tuition to a community college or technical school. The state program contributes to a 10 percent increase in public higher education enrollment, and a 25 percent increase in community colleges throughout Tennessee.

The Tennessee program pairs students with a mentor to assist with the college admissions process. Tennessee Promise participants also must complete eight hours of community service per term enrolled, as well as maintaining at least a 2.0 GPA at their institution. Student participating must also file a the 2017-2018 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by Jan. 17, 2017.

Students can use the Tennessee Promise scholarship at any of the state’s 13 community colleges, 27 colleges of applied technology or other eligible institutions offering an associate’s degree program.

Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Candice McQueen called Tennessee Promise, “one of the most exciting things in Tennessee in years.”

McQueen said Tennessee Promise is giving K-12 students opportunities they didn’t know they had. She said many students never thought attending college was a realistic opportunity.

Related: Tennessee Promise looking for mentors

The deadline for students to apply in the class of 2017 is Nov. 1.

(© 2016 WBIR)


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