Obama's proposal for a publicly funded community college could increase access to Latinos

Latinos would greatly benefit from President Barack Obama’s announcement Friday of an ambitious, multibillion-dollar proposal to pay for two years of community college for any American.

Obama said the plan, which the White House estimates would cost the federal government about $60 billion over 10 years, would help the U.S. compete with other countries with a 21st century workforce. The White House says details on how the president proposes to pay for the plan will come next month.

"I want to make it free," Obama said at a community college in Tennessee, where he described such schools as a "central pathway" to the middle class. "Community college should be free for those willing to work for it because, in America, a quality education should not be a privilege that is reserved for a few," he said.

About 19 percent of the 12.8 million students enrolled in community colleges in the fall of 2012 were Hispanic, which equates to about 2.2 million people. In total, 56 percent of all Hispanic undergraduates enrolled in colleges in 2012 were enrolled in community colleges, according to the American Association of Community Colleges.

The White House estimates that 9 million students could eventually participate and save themselves an average of $3,800 in tuition per year if they attended school full-time. Students would qualify if they attended at least half time, maintained a 2.5 GPA and made progress toward completing a degree or certificate program.

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More than 30 percent of African-Americans and Hispanics with a high school grade point average (GPA) higher than 3.5 go to community colleges compared with only 22 percent of whites with the same GPA, a Georgetown University study found.

Participating schools would have to meet certain academic requirements.

States that want to participate in the program would have to chip in, too.

Obama modeled his program after one started in Tennessee by the state's Republican governor, Bill Haslam. But Obama's received a cool reception from a Republican-controlled Congress uninterested in big new spending programs.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., a former education secretary who is set to take over the Senate committee that oversees education, said states and not the federal government should follow Tennessee's lead. He said Washington's role should be to reduce paperwork for student aid applications and to fund the Pell grants for low-income students that would result from an expansion of community college enrollment.

Alexander and fellow Tennessee Republican Bob Corker joined Obama on Air Force One for the trip and conferred together mid-flight.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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