$100M Grant Competition Aims To Expand Tuition-Free Community College Programs

Image courtesy of MeneerDijk

In January 2015, President Obama announced a proposal that would make the first two years of community college free for some consumers hoping to further their education. Today, the White House revealed another step in making that goal a reality through a $100 million competitive grant program focused on expanding workforce training programs at community colleges. 

The America’s Promise Grants – a partnership between the Department of Labor, employers, training programs, and technical and community colleges – will award funds to schools to pilot tuition-free education programs for unemployed, underemployed, and low-income workers looking to enter industries that require skilled labor.

These programs “will strengthen the pipeline of Americans ready for in-demand jobs, bridge students’ educational opportunities and employer needs, attract more jobs from overseas, and create more pathways for Americans to reach the middle class,” the White House said on Monday.

Through regional partnerships with employers, the schools will be able to offer students work-based learning and customized strategies to hone their skills. In turn, employers will provide students with apprenticeships or paid internship experience.

“These kinds of partnerships can help tens of thousands of students get the education and skills training they need to succeed in good-paying, middle class jobs,” Vice President Joe Biden said in a prepared statement Monday. “I’ve traveled the country and seen first hand that these kinds of programs are preparing students for jobs in industries like IT, health care, cybersecurity and energy. ‎These are the kinds of investments that will allow us to outcompete the world.”

The White House did not provide details on how the Department of Labor will determine which schools will receive grants, but did note that the program would start later this summer.

In addition to announcing the new grant program, Vice President Biden provided an update on the Administration’s America’s College Promise initiative, which aims to make two years of community college free for responsible students, letting students earn the first half of a bachelor’s degree and the skills needed in the workforce at no cost.

Under the President’s plan, the program would be available on an opt-in basis for each state. In those states that choose to participate, qualifying schools will receive federal funding equal to three-quarters of the average cost of community college for eligible students, with the state covering the remaining quarter.

So far, at least 27 new free community college programs have been launched in states, communities, and individual community colleges since the plan was announced in January 2015.

The White House released a map highlighting local and state-wide community college tuition programs.

The White House released a map highlighting local and state-wide community college tuition programs.

The programs, which have a variety of requirements for students like maintaining a 2.5 grade point average, add over $70 million in new public and private investments to serve nearly 40,000 students at community colleges, according to the White House.