Free Community College: What's all the Buzz?

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The average American is carrying around $27,000 in student-load debt in 2015. American's are either not going to school for the first time or not furthering their education because they can't afford it or don't want the debt.

In the January 2015 State of the Union Address, President Obama introduced many proposals, but one in particular stood out in the education field: Free community college tuition for everyone.

But what does the proposal entail? What are some states doing right now to offer affordable community college? And are organizations providing a tuition reimbursement program for their employees to go to or return back to school?

Proposal details

First, let's take a look at what the proposal entails.

  • The proposal was for a $60 billion plan to give everyone in America two-free years of college, over the course of 10 years. The cost would be split with the federal government covering three-fourths of the plan and the states and local entities covering the remainder.
  • If approved, the program would provide tuition-free education at community colleges for students who maintained a 2.5 GPA and stayed on track for graduation. It covers both students who are looking to get a certificate or an associate degree that can be transferred to a four-year college. 
  • The federal money would come from increasing the capital-gains and dividing tax rates for high-income households. It would also include closing trust-fund loopholes and charging a fee to financial firms that borrow heavily.

College programs currently in place

Here are what some colleges are currently implementing to ease the cost of a higher education:

Tennessee Promise: Starting in the fall of 2015, the state of Tennessee is starting the Tennessee Promise scholarship. This program will provide two years tuition-free education at any community college or technical school in Tennessee, as well as a mentoring program.

According to its website, "A critical component of Tennessee Promise is the individual guidance each participant will receive from a mentor who will assist the student as he or she navigates the college admissions process."

Guidelines for the program include: Participants must complete eight hours of community service per term enrolled and maintain a 2.0 GPA.

Tulsa Achieves: Started in 2007, this gap-funding program gives up to 100% tuition-free assistance  to Tulsa County high school graduating seniors who enroll at Tulsa Community College after graduation. The program will pay for up to 63 college credit hours or up to three years of college, whichever comes first.

Presidential Scholarship: Here is a local program many people are unaware of. Lorain County high school graduates who earn between a 3.4 and 3.6999 high school GPA by the end of their high school career are eligible for the Presidential Scholarship at Lorain County Community College. This program covers 40 credit hours of tuition over two consecutive years. When completed, 75% of the student's tuition and fees can be covered.

Organizations currently offering college reimbursement  

What are Northeast Ohio companies doing when it comes to their employees and reimbursement programs for college? As reported by the National Policies and Benefits Survey, approximately 63% of all organization in America currently offer some type of reimbursement program. And as the ERC Benefits and Policies Survey reports, 53% of Northeast Ohio organizations currently offer some type of reimbursement program.

Here are what some local organizations are doing:

Starbucks College Achievement Plan: Starbucks has partnered with Arizona State University to bring its employees the Starbucks College Achievement Plan. This plan is available to anyone working at a Starbucks location, at least 20 hours per week, or other company-operated stores. These employees cannot yet have a bachelor's degree. There is a commitment for Starbucks employees to stay working at Starbucks while going through the online courses offered at ASU, but there is no commitment to remain at Starbucks past graduation.

Students will also be provided with a dedicated enrollment coach, financial aid counselor and academic advisor.

Malone University: Currently, any employee that works at Malone University, whether a part of the faculty, staff or administration, is eligible for the tuition free program, including their dependents.

ShurTech: A NorthCoast 99 winner, also reimburses its employees up to $5,250 per year in educational costs.

Other local companies offering a reimbursement program to their employees include: Oswald Financial, Huntington National Bank, Hyland, creator of OnBase, Northeast Ohio Medical University, Flight Options and Vitamix.

As a nation, there is little knowledge of where President Obama's free community college proposal will go. However, there are many organizations in Northeast Ohio implementing reimbursement programs to ensure this generation and the next will receive an exceptional education at a low cost.

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