Programs designed to defray the cost of the college experience are gaining traction

Several of our community’s leaders and I had the opportunity this summer to discuss — at the White House — President Barack Obama’s bold new plan to provide free community college education to every student in the country.

The proposal, called America’s College Promise, is based on a Tennessee program and would create a partnership among local colleges and state and federal governments that would waive tuition for students who are enrolled in high-quality higher education programs. Students would then have to attend at least part time, maintain a 2.5 grade point average and make steady continuous progress toward a degree or certificate.

Affordability focus

The state of Ohio, although not currently developing a program to make community college free, is undertaking a review by the Governor’s Task Force on Affordability and Efficiency in Higher Education to determine how higher educational institutions can reduce costs for students. Gov. John Kasich is also promoting College Credit Plus, which fosters dual enrollment programs that allow high school students to earn college credit at no cost to their families.

A focus on affordability is not only in the purview of government, communities are also developing programs designed to defray the cost of the college experience. The Pittsburgh Promise is one such example, providing up to $30,000 for college over four years for any graduate of the Pittsburgh public schools who meets certain requirements.

In Greater Cleveland, College Now works with more than 22,000 students and adult learners each year to identify funding opportunities.

These programs have resulted in more students being retained, graduating and accepting jobs in the workforce.

But this is not where the story ends. Institutions like Cuyahoga Community College also have taken affordability seriously and see it as an important responsibility not only to students but to the community.

Community support

At Tri-C, thanks to the support of the citizens of Cuyahoga County, students pay only 27 percent of what it costs to educate them. At community colleges nationally, this figure approaches 60 percent on average. Tuition at Tri-C is the second lowest among all community colleges in the state.

Other initiatives include providing additional scholarships for athletes, the Tuition Guarantee program, the 15+ Perks Program, textbook affordability measures and the Completion Scholars program.

These initiatives contributed to more than 4,200 students earning degrees and certificates last year, which is the highest one-year total in the college’s history. Students are being retained at a record level from the fall to spring semester, which shows a renewed commitment to education and underscores the success of the college’s support services.

Community college leaders are pleased with President Obama’s proposal. But his effort is not unprecedented; along with states like Tennessee and cities including Pittsburgh and Cleveland, other communities and colleges must continue to implement measures to reduce the burden of the higher education experience.

Alex Johnson, Ph.D., is president of Cuyahoga Community College. He focuses on strengthening the collegeís more than 50-year mission of providing high-quality, accessible and affordable educational opportunities and services. Since becoming president in July 2013, he has promoted access, equity, success and completion for the nearly 60,000 credit and non-credit students who attend Tri-C’s eight campuses and centers throughout Greater Cleveland each year. Contact him at [email protected]