President Obama’s plan to offer free community college tuition now has a price tag: $60 billion over the next decade, the White House said Friday.
"That is a significant investment, but it's one the president believes is worthwhile because we need to make sure that America's young people are getting the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century economy,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said.
The White House has faced tough questions over the cost of the program, which the president is set to unveil Friday afternoon in Tennessee. Aides had initially refused to estimate the cost for the program, which could provide an estimated nine million students with tuition relief.
Details of how the administration proposes to pay for the program will come in the president’s budget, which is scheduled for release early next month, Schultz said.
Under the program, modeled after a new initiative in Tennessee, the federal government would pay three quarters of tuition for students enrolled at least half-time who also maintain a 2.5 GPA. States would be required to chip in the remainder of the cost — an additional $20 billion over the next 10 years.
Full-time students would save an average of $3,800 per year.
White House Domestic Policy Council director Cecilia Munoz acknowledged Thursday that the proposal was “significant” and that securing funding on either the federal or state level would be an uphill battle.
“States will have to take the initiative to pick it up so it’s not something we expect to happen overnight,” Munoz said.
That’s especially true with Republicans now in control of both chambers of Congress and 70 percent of state legislative chambers. And White House officials conceded they hadn’t yet run the plan by Capitol Hill.
A spokesman for Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerLobbying world A new kind of hero? Last week's emotional TV may be a sign GOP up in arms over Cheney, Kinzinger MORE (R-Ohio) said the proposal “seems more like a talking point than a plan.”
Schultz argued that Republicans had appeared to “shrug off” a finding that a bill redefining full-time employees under ObamaCare to those who worked 40 hours a week would increase the deficit by $53 billion.
“It bothers us,” Schultz said. “Republicans are now spending tens of billions of dollars to take healthcare away from Americans. We are spending tens of billions of dollars to make sure America's young people get an education."
And Munoz pointed out that after the president’s unrealized call in past years for Congress to provide universal pre-K to low-and moderate-income families, some 30 states moved to expand such access. She also said conservative legislators in states like Tennessee — which uses lottery earnings to underwrite education spending — had embraced the program.
“This is a proposal with bipartisan appeal,” Munoz said. “Making sure students have access to higher education and the skills that they need is not a partisan proposal.”
White House officials noted that the proposal has generated substantial attention online since being unveiled Thursday.
“It’s now our top Facebook video ever,” senior presidential adviser Dan Pfeiffer said of a White House video of the president announcing the plan which has garnered more than 6 million views. “Powerful issue, powerful medium.”