By Nicholas Bostick
Dallas County Community College District Chancellor Joe May has been appointed to President Barack Obama’s newly formed College Advisory Board, according to a press release.
The independent board has been tasked with creating a model that will allow states to provide free community college. It will be chaired by second lady Dr. Jill Biden and vice-chair Jim Geringer, former governor of Wyoming, according to whitehouse.gov.
The announcement was made in a speech on Sept. 9 at Macomb Community College in Warren, Michigan. Obama also announced the Department of Labor will award $175 million in American Apprenticeship Grants and the launch of Heads Up America, an independent campaign to promote community college, according to whitehouse.gov.
“I am honored to join Dr. Biden and the other members of the College Promise Advisory Board as a representative for the Dallas County Community College District and other two-year institutions across the country,” May said, according to DCCCD’s release.
As of press date, three states had passed legislation that will dramatically decrease the cost of tuition at community colleges through the use of “last dollar” scholarships and grants. These grants and scholarships will be offered to qualifying residents to cover tuition and fees not covered by federal and state aid, according to ncsl.org.
House Bill 2517 would have brought a similar program to Texas. The bill was filed during Texas’ 84th legislative session and referred to the Higher Education Committee, but did not become law.
A number of local and state scholarships are also offered in places across the U.S. that provide similar funding to students, making community college free, or nearly free, according to freecollegenow.org.
One such scholarship is the Rusk TJC Citizens Promise, which provides up to $8,000 for two years for Rusk Independent School District graduates who enroll at Tyler Junior College. It is currently the only program of its kind in Texas, according to tjc.edu.
“We became the first country in the world to say every child deserves a high school education,” Obama said at his announcement in Warren. “And it’s because we were ahead of the curve that we ended up having the most educated workforce, and that was good for the entire economy.”
Obama’s speech focused heavily on the need for universal community college to revive the middle class and likened the need to the universal high school movement of the early 20th century. These thoughts were echoed by the DCCCD chancellor at the 2014 chancellor’s luncheon.
“It simply wasn’t that long ago that you didn’t need any education beyond high school to get a middle class wage job,” May said in 2014.
While the White House appears optimistic in achieving the goal of free community college, a poll conducted by Gallup and Inside Higher Ed found that 61 percent of community college presidents said their state legislatures were unlikely to support the president’s plan, even with federal funding.
The poll also found that 91 percent of community college presidents felt four-year universities would not likely support the proposal.
However, Obama praised community colleges in his speech, noting their accessibility and flexibility.
He said this allows students to save money before transferring to a four-year university, eliminates the choice some students have to make between getting an education and having a job or family, and allows workers to update their skills in the rapidly changing landscape of some technical fields.
“Sometimes it can feel like four year colleges get all the attention, but that has to change,” Obama said. “I have been focused on community colleges. They’re at the heart of the American dream.”
Obama added: “A credential above and beyond your high school diploma [is] the surest way to the middle class.”