President Obama will propose two years of free community college for American workers Friday, part of what the White House says is an effort to make community college as universal as high school is today.
Obama teased his community college proposal in a video uploaded to Facebook Thursday, and will deliver a speech Friday in Knoxville, Tenn.
"Put simply, what I'd like to do is to see the first two years of community college free for anybody who's willing to work for it," he said. "It's something we can accomplish, and it;s something that will train our workforce so that we can compete with anyone in the world."
The program would require action from a Republican-dominated Congress.
The White House would not discuss the cost and funding for the proposal, saying those details will come in the State of the Union Address Jan. 20 and the president's budget request Feb. 2. But the White House expects 9 million students to participate, and save them up to $3,800 a year. That would place the cost at $34.2 billion. The federal government would pay three quarters of that.
In some ways, the community college plan is a bookend to Obama's 2013 proposal to pay for universal pre-Kindergarten through a state and federal partnership. That proposal, which relied on dwindling tobacco tax money to provide federal matching funds, never got traction in Congress.
But Cecilia Munoz, Obama's domestic policy adviser, said Obama's pre-K proposal spurred state and local governments to increase the number and quality of pre-school offerings, and hopes the college proposal will do the same. "We don't expect the country to be transformed overnight, but we do expect the conversation to begin tomorrow," she said.
Munoz said the college plan would require the cooperation of states, community colleges and students. States would have to pick up a quarter of the cost -- more or less depending on how much they currently fund community colleges.
"Community colleges have to raise their game by establishing standards to allow students to transfer those credits to a four year degree," she said. "And students must take responsibility for their education, earn good grades and stay on track to graduate in order to earn free tuition."
The America's College Promise program would be available to traditional and non-traditional college students, she said, and would support those seeking the first two years of a bachelor's degree, an associate's degree, or even just job training.