If students want two years of free community college, they will need to maintain a 2.5 GPA, prove they are attending class and commit to finishing college on time.
And they’ll still need to find a way to pay for books and other expenses during those two years.
“There’s no such thing as a completely free lunch,” President Barack Obama said to a group of students, faculty and state officials at Ivy Tech Community College in Indianapolis on Friday.
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The plan isn’t meant to deter students from attending IU, Notre Dame or other traditional, four-year colleges. And there are no plans right now to do away with 529 college savings plans that allow families to save for their children’s college tuition.
The president had considered reducing some of the tax benefits to those plans but dropped that idea.
Obama said his goal is to provide options for students who otherwise can’t afford the cost of an associate’s degree.
If more students complete those first two years of college, then they’ll be better prepared to transition to a four-year college or university or to find a better-paying job, Obama said.
Sending more students to college to prepare them for the workforce is essential in strengthening the middle class, the president said.
“I’m hoping we don’t have to try every other thing before we do the right thing right now to help middle class families,” Obama said.
High school students already are encouraged to take college-level courses before graduating because they’ll save thousands of dollars on the cost of college, Obama said. This plan would continue to make college affordable for more families. And if more students can afford the cost of college and earn a degree on time, they’ll have a better chance at getting a higher-paying job, the president said.
From the time students become freshmen in college until they’re hired, the country’s goal should be to prepare them for their careers as much as possible, Obama said.
The president also challenged state lawmakers and universities to ensure they’re doing all they can to make college affordable.
One of the reasons college has gotten so expensive is that revenue from the state hasn’t kept up with the cost of inflation. That leads to rising tuition costs, Obama said.
Students and parents also need to be conscious consumers, he said. It’s not as important to focus on the gym or food served at a college or university as it is to analyze their costs. If there’s a way for students to save thousands of dollars while earning a degree, they should consider that, he said.
“The issue isn’t how much money you’re paying. It’s what kind of education you’re provided,” Obama said. “Don’t think paying more is better. Paying less is better. I’m always looking for a deal.”
Ensuring more students earn two- and four-year degrees will attract businesses to Indiana and other states around the nation, which is essential in continuing to heal the economy, Obama said.
“First and foremost, we have to keep this (economic) growth going,” he added.
The president spoke at Ivy Tech in Indianapolis to drum up support for the plan. The event was closed to the public, but some students and faculty were invited to the presentation, along with current and former state lawmakers.
After his speech, Obama took questions from the audience.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz attended the speech and said she hoped to hear more details about the plan to make community college more affordable.
“Hopefully the nation can lead in a direction where we’re paying for postsecondary education for students,” Ritz said. “Education, I feel, is the most important way we can use our tax dollars. Kids are going to need training for the rest of their lives.”
Also in the crowd was John Gregg, a former state representative and gubernatorial candidate. He said he was eager to hear details of the president’s plan.
“Anytime any elected official or educator talks about vocational education, I like to hear or read their comments,” Gregg said.