America’s College Promise: An $80B Implementation Price Tag

gerri.songer's picture

The Harper Promise Program encourages high school students to make a commitment to prepare for college through rigor in the classroom, attendance and community service. Successful fulfillment would result in support for two years at Harper funded by the Educational Foundation. Placing the focus on an opportunity for community college education is a very positive step toward educating the workforce necessary for competitiveness in a global society.

Yet, what are the details regarding the funding and oversight of President Obama's proposal?
Below are some of the points made about American's College Promise from the Washington Post and Huffington Post prior to legislation passing. The following is a link to the "College Promise Playbook" that identifies key issues regarding its implementation.


The most looming question is, "where is the money going to come from?" America's College Program is attractive to community colleges because it bumps up three-fourths of the implementation cost to the federal level. This would be appealing because community colleges have received less and less in financial aid.

The American's College Promise will cost the federal government about $60B over 10 years, and the state will still have to pay about $20B. The national debt was $18.3 trillion in 2015, and IL is facing a financial catastrophe.

Another issue is that the program utilizes dual-enrollment courses taught by secondary school teachers, which count for credit at both the high school and community college. This reduces the need for faculty and results in community college professors getting laid off. There is a savings to the community college, but quality programming can be lost. Secondary school teachers must pack a year-long course into 18 weeks, and they have to take a back seat because the community college drives instruction.

Points from the College Promise Playbook:

• America’s College Promise (ACP) January 2015 – two years of community college free for responsible students, letting them earn the first half of a bachelor’s degree and learn the skills needed to succeed in the workforce at no cost

• Students incur many other costs to attend college -- from living expenses to lost wages

• A first-dollar scholarship, federal and state investments are to cover tuition and fees

• A first-dollar program, like the president’s ACP plan, covers tuition and fees before students use up their financial aid, allowing students to shift any additional aid they receive to cover other remaining education expenses, which often represent the greatest bulk of cost of attendance

• A last-dollar program, alternatively, covers the unmet need on students’ tuition and fees to reduce the amount owed to zero

• Allows students to apply any additional federal, state, institutional, and private financial aid to cover the remaining costs of attendance, including academic supplies, transportation, room and board, and child care

• America's Promise Grants, Dual Enrollment experimental site, and independently funded and announced programs

• New programs are investing more than $280M in public and private investments in community colleges to serve at least 210,000 students

• Provides "free" community college

• Administration invested more than $70B in support of community colleges, including over $66B for more than 19 million Pell Grants to help students and families pay for college.

• Also invested $2B at nearly half of the nation’s community colleges in Job-Driven Training Community College Grants that seek to strengthen education and training programs that lead to in-demand employment and provide a ticket to the middle class

• Funds build upon $1.6B in programs authorized under Title III and Title V of the Higher Education Act (HEA) to strengthen the capacity of all institutions (including Historically Black Colleges and Universities and minority-serving institutions) to provide students an affordable, high-quality education

• Community colleges offer an affordable education for many students who may have otherwise not attended college or who may have chosen to attend a more expensive or lower-quality college

• Provides over 70% of all dual-enrollment courses - dual enrollment, early-college high schools, and other college-credit programs, have consistently increased student achievement

• Community colleges award roughly two-thirds of all associate degrees and account for over 40% of undergraduate enrollment.

• Most states are implementing sectoral training strategies based on partnerships between government, education, workforce groups, and employers, among others, to focus on regional labor market needs. These strategies often address knowledge and skills gaps and align state and local employment programs and resources.

• Maximum Pell Grant has increased by over $1,000 since 2008, it only covers about 60% of the cost of attending community college, whereas decades earlier it covered those costs entirely

• Tuition waivers; academic, financial, and career advising; and transportation and textbook subsidies, have together more than doubled students’ likelihood of earning a college degree.

• Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

• Roughly $60B price tag over the next 10 years

• "A whole new bureaucratic federal program."

• Gives states a huge break -- with the federal government picking up three-quarters of the cost of waiving community college tuition for the first two years, and leaving states to fund the rest.

• Waives tuition costs and lets students use federal aid, like Pell Grants for the neediest students, go toward expenses other than tuition

Points from the Huffington Post:

• Another example of wasteful government spending. Where is the money going to come from? As the saying goes, ‘Nothing in life is free.”

• Could involve about 9 million participants, will cost $60 billion in federal spending over 10 years, and another $20B from states that opt in. Under the plan, 75% of the program’s funding will come from federal dollars while states cover the remaining 25%.

• The national debt now is $18.3 trillion (2015) and continues to spiral out of control.

• Serious consideration wasn't given by President Obama to the fiscal consequences that would result.

• Why not make the students hold down a part-time job and pay it off? Why stick the American people with the debt and raise our taxes?

• Less than half of students who enter a community college graduate or transfer to a four-year college within six years, according to a report called “Reclaiming the American Dream: Community Colleges and the Nation’s Future.”

• “Higher education is the key to getting a good job that pays a good income and ... ensures you’re always employable.” Yet, millions of people are barely earning $50,000 a year or have found themselves out of work in recent years.

Fox News:

Points from the Washington Post:

Obama’s Education Department and Gates Foundation were closer than you thought

• “Policy Patrons: Philanthropy, Education Reform, and the Politics of Influence” four foundations — Bill and Melinda Gates, Eli and Edythe Broad, Ford, and W.K. Kellogg — have taken unusually active roles in trying to align public policy with their education goals, such as the Common Core State Standards and charter schools

• An attempt to change public education to operate like a private business rather than as a civic institution

• Author Tompkins-Stange wrote: “Arguably, no social sector in the United States is more heavily impacted by foundations than K-12 education.”

• “Once Obama was elected, Gates literally had people sitting at the Department of Education both formally and informally.”

• Officials included Jim Shelton, Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement and former Program Director for the Education program at Gates, and Joanne Weiss, director of the Race to the Top competition and a former partner at the NewSchools Venture Fund, a major Gates grantee that served as an intermediary funder for charter school management organizations.

• Theory of Change: “Charter schools will introduce competition to the system of education, which will cause non-charters to improve in quality, which will increase achievement for all students.”

• Underlying is an assumption that competition and choice lead to better outcomes.

• The outcome-oriented approach is anything but neutral and objective. It’s a distinct mode of engagement, defined by values as opposed to dispassionate facts. And these values, which are very managerial, sometimes have a blind spot for democratic processes or incorporating the views of citizens.