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Education

Illinois Community College Board Supports President Obama's Tuition Proposal

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State of Illinois
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The Illinois Community College Board backs President Obama's proposal to provide the first two years of community college free to certain students. 

President Obama wants to make two years of community college free for many students nationwide. It's an effort to increase access to higher education, as college continues to get more expensive and student loan debt continues to grow.

Under Obama's proposal, the federal government would foot 75 percent of the bill, with participating states kicking in the rest. The plan was inspired in part by the Chicago Star Scholarship program, a new initiative that creates a free tuition pipeline from Chicago Public Schools to the City Colleges of Chicago.

State funding for Illinois' 48 community colleges currently accounts for only 5 percent of the schools' budgets, on average. Board director Karen Hunter Anderson says even though the funding details have yet to be worked out, Illinois may model its program on one in Tennessee.

"In that program they had 64-thousand eligible students in the state and 56-thousand of them wanted to take advantage of the program and how that will translate in Illinois ... we don't know. A lot if it depends of the parameters that we set up."

Anderson says several colleges in the state provide some type of tuition-free program for eligible students. She says the goal is to increase accessibility to post-secondary education.

Anderson she’s excited about the possibility.

“We in the system, in the community college system, applaud the president’s proposal because it recognizes the important role that community colleges play in the state’s higher education system.”

But first, the plan needs to get approved by the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress. If it gets that far, Anderson isn’t sure how Governor-elect Bruce Rauner would respond. States would be responsible for paying a quarter of the cost, and Illinois is already running a deficit.

Anderson says several colleges in Illinois provide some type of tuition-free program for eligible students. Anderson says Illinois' goal is to increase accessibility to post-secondary education.

Editor's Note: Lisa Ryan, Hannah Meisel and Amanda Vinicky contributed to this story.