Tennessee Promise inspires Obama's college plan - WSMV Channel 4

Tennessee Promise inspires Obama's college plan

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

For the second time in a month, President Barack Obama used Tennessee as the backdrop for a major announcement, this time on education.

The president was in Knoxville on Friday to announce plans for free community college for all students.

"In a few weeks, I'm going to send to Congress my plan for free community college," Obama said. "I hope that Congress will come together to support it, because opening up the doors to higher education shouldn't be a Democratic issue or a Republican issue. This is an American issue."

The plan was inspired by the Tennessee Promise program.

"The concept is simple," Obama added. "America's College Promise will make two years of community college free to responsible students who are willing to work for it."

That means students must have a mentor, complete eight hours of community service per term and maintain a 2.5 GPA.

The plan would require both the federal government and states to split the bill, saving students up to $3,800 in tuition a year.

Congress still has to pass the legislation.

Most students agreed the plan is a step in the right direction.

"Nowadays you have to have a degree to get anywhere or get a decent job making decent money," said Branton Lamberth, a freshman at Volunteer State Community College.

Next fall, Tennessee will become the first state in the country to offer a free two-year degree to anyone who signs up for the Tennessee Promise program.

Tennessee Promise is still very much in its infancy stage. That's why some are surprised the president is so eager to take Gov. Bill Haslam's idea and run with it nationally.

"I'm not sure how the federal government plans on funding it, but I think it's a great thing to do and look into," Lamberth said.

In Tennessee, the tuition is being paid for with lottery reserves.

Officials said it would cost an estimated $9 billion a year to offer free community college across the nation.

Education officials in Tennessee are more worried about making sure those students graduate.

After the president's announcement, Haslam issued the following statement:

"The president recognizes that good things are happening in Tennessee. We are proud of the Tennessee Promise. It is changing the culture of expectations in Tennessee by encouraging more students to pursue a certificate or degree beyond high school. The Tennessee Promise is focused not just on access but success in terms of making certain that students actually attain their degree. We think having a mentor available for the students is an important part of achieving that success.

"Regarding the specifics of the president's plan, we look forward to seeing more details in the coming days about the cost of the program and how it will be covered."

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