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Cuesta reacts to free college proposal

Photo by Austin Herbaugh/ The Cuestonian

By Austin Herbaugh

Photo by Austin Herbaugh/ The Cuestonian
Photo by Austin Herbaugh/ The Cuestonian

A new nationwide proposal by President Obama would make two years of community college free and universal like high school. America’s Promise College Proposal would waive tuition for students who maintain a GPA of 2.5 or higher, attend school at least half-time, and make steady progress toward earning a degree.

“Cuesta College is very excited that investing in community colleges is being discussed on a national scale,” said Cuesta College President Gil Stork in a press release. “The president’s plan to provide free tuition for eligible students to attend community colleges nationwide should create much-needed dialog. We look forward to the process and will be reviewing the proposal in more detail.”

Stork added that Cuesta is in a unique position because the Cuesta Promise already offers a year of free tuition to immediate SLO county high school graduates without any requirements. If the President’s plan becomes reality, the Cuesta Promise could be changed to cover other expenses such as books, according to Stork.

Cuesta could also see an influx of older students returning to school. The Cuesta Promise drew 100 more local high school graduates in 2014 than the year before; the same thing would happen if tuition was waived for the general population, Stork said.

While he is in support of the President’s proposal, Stork doesn’t see it becoming reality any time soon. “I’m just glad we have the Promise because I think this proposal by President Obama is going to be several years off if it ever comes to fruition.”

The President’s proposal faces an uphill battle for implementation, Stork said, adding that he doesn’t see it moving forward during the remainder of Obama’s term. It will have to be championed by another President in the future, he said.

Many questions still have to be addressed before community college becomes tuition-free across the country. According to Stork, 75 percent of the President’s plan would be financed by the federal government, and 25 percent would be covered by the state. Community colleges would need to be reimbursed for revenue lost by not charging tuition. Whether free tuition would apply to students going out of state also needs to be determined.

It may not happen for a long time, but Stork thinks that the President’s proposal is a step in the right direction.

“Obama’s proposal I think is admirable; it’s consistent with his previous announcement about a year ago that community colleges are the answer to the nation’s workforce and economic development,” Stork said. “Usually the biggest barrier to going back to school or starting school is money.”