President Obama promotes free college from Tennessee

President Obama promotes free college from Tennessee
Source: WMC Action News 5
Source: WMC Action News 5

KNOXVILLE, TN (WMC) - President Barack Obama was in Knoxville, TN on Friday, making a push for free community college.

The proposal has Mid-South students excited about the opportunity. It was all the buzz on East High School's campus.

"They're saying how achievable college finally is and that if they [students] didn't get scholarships, they didn't know if they would actually go at all," said East High School senior Norman Harris, who hopes to attend a 4-year college. "It's definitely a necessity, but it's priced as a luxury."

The president told students that higher education is the surest way to secure a place in the middle class. Obama's proposal would bring the cost of a higher education to zero for potential community college students.

Christian Brothers University President John Smarrelli says a 4-year college is a small investment.

"Your average debt is $20,000 over a four-year period. So talk of $100,000 debt and no jobs is totally erroneous, quite honestly," said Smarrelli, who also warned students and parents to have caution with the president's plan. "The numbers don't add up to say that this is a perfect return on your investment."

According to CBU, only 6 percent of local community college students graduate and only 14 percent of graduates move on to 4-year institutions.

East High School's admissions counselor, Tamara Jones, supports the president's plan.

"I've seen a lot of students who want to go to college, stay on campus, but they don't have the opportunity to do so because of financial situations and hardships" Jones said.

"My concern with going national on a program like this is how are we going to fund it?" Smarrelli said.

Tennessee uses lottery money to fund free community college.

It's unclear if federal tax money that currently goes to 4-year colleges will be diverted to free community college.

Meanwhile, Harris applied to 50 schools, and is seeking merit-based scholarships. Despite being at the top of his class, he says he doesn't qualify for a lot of funding.

"I still have something right there to make sure I go somewhere. Something is better than nothing in the end," said Harris.

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