President Obama arrives in Knoxville, announces “America’s College Promise”

President Barack Obama spoke on Friday, Januray 9 at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee on a proposal for free community college education. (Greg French/MTSU Sidelines)

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden visited Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville on Friday to announce “America’s College Promise,” a plan to provide free community college across the nation.

“This is a hallmark of America, this investment in our education,” President Obama said on Friday.

The plan, which is modeled after Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s “Tennessee Promise,” will provide two years of free community college to all students who attend. The plan is intended to cut costs of higher education for students so that, by 2020, students will be able to attend four-year universities at a more affordable cost.

“I want to make two years of community college free to responsible students who are willing to work for it,” President Obama said on Friday. “I want to underscore that last clause. Students would have to keep grades up and college offer high quality educations. For those willing to do the work and for states and local communities who want to be a part of this, it could be a game changer.”

According to a White House press release, the plan will eliminate the cost of the first two years at a community college if students maintain a 2.5 GPA and enroll in at least part-time credits.

The plan is expected to include a provision for technical schools under the same standards.

In his speech, President Obama noted that the name “America’s College Promise” is an homage to Tennessee Promise.

“We thought, ‘Why not build on what works?'” he said.

Tennessee Promise was based on a program created within Knoxville schools almost a decade ago. Governor Haslam, who also spoke at Friday’s event, noted that the statewide initiative created in 2014 was a nod to Haslam’s hometown project, “Tennessee Achieves.”

“We modeled Tennessee Promise after Tennessee Achieves, which began right here in Knoxville that has been successful for the past six years,” said Governor Bill Haslam during the speech. “For the last 30 years, Tennessee has been in need of better trained workers. We think Tennessee Promise will be a game changer.”

Deputy press secretary Eric Shultz said the plan was “inspired by the Tennessee program.” He also noted the program is currently estimated to cost $60 million over the course of 10 years.

“Now in a few weeks, I’m going to send to congress my plan. I hope that congress will show support,” President Obama said. “This isn’t a Democratic or Republican issue. This is an American issue.”

Additionally, America’s College Promise will include a provision suggested by Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander to simply application for federal aid.

“I haven’t done that in a while,” Obama said. “I understand it’s more than 100 questions. It shouldn’t be that hard to apply for aid for college. We’re [President Obama and Sen. Alexander] working together to simplify that form.”

President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will travel to Techmer PM in Clinton, Tennessee this afternoon to discuss the expansion of manufacturing jobs across the country.

The announcement held at Techmer PM is expected to be in reference to a new technology hub partenered with the U.S. Department of Energy. This project is expected to include approximately 122 companies and require more than $250 million. The hub will work in conjunction with the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, according to the White House Press Office.

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To contact news editor Meagan White, email

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