President Barack Obama's new proposal to significantly reduce the cost of community college was met with some caution by the new Baker administration, while one cabinet member expressed general support.
"There needs to be more specifics," Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Ron Walker II told the News Service. "But anytime you can assist people in community colleges to prepare them better for jobs, that on the surface is a good thing."
The White House on Friday said Obama planned to propose federal funding covering 75 percent of the "average cost of community college," and participating states would be responsible for covering the rest.
The Obama administration said the program would make the first two years of community college tuition-free for qualifying students in participating states. If all states participate, about 9 million students attending 1,100 U.S. community colleges could benefit, the White House said, with a full-time student saving an average of $3,800 per year.
Students would need to attend at least half-time and maintain a 2.5 grade point average, while the community colleges would need to offer academic programs that could transfer credits to public four-year colleges or offer occupational training for degrees or certificates "in demand among employers."
Gov. Charlie Baker said he wanted to hear first from the Board of Higher Education and the community colleges themselves before rendering a verdict on the president's proposal.
"I'd like to have a chance to review it first before I make a decision on that," Baker told reporters.
Obama's deputy press secretary Eric Schultz told reporters on Friday the program would be included in the president's budget and cost the federal government roughly $60 billion over 10 years.
Republicans control Congress and have in recent years sought to reduce federal spending in certain areas, arguing federal debt and the federal deficit puts the country at risk.
"We're obviously very interested in affordability and access to higher education," said Education Secretary James Peyser, who also said, "I don't know the details" and declined further comment after emerging from a cabinet meeting Friday.
Walker said Labor and Workforce Development "would be extremely interested... particularly when it improves the opportunity for community college students to offset the costs in order to create better educational opportunities for them."
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has championed lower student loan costs to unburden young people from debt and make higher education more accessible. A spokeswoman did not provide a comment from Warren on Friday.
Massachusetts has 15 community colleges. Bay State community colleges had a 47 percent "six-year success rate," which is slightly above the national average of 42 percent, according to the Department of Higher Education. In Massachusetts, 67 percent of 18-to-24-year-olds were enrolled in college between 2010 and 2012, up from the national average of 55 percent.
Obama also proposed the American Technical Training Fund, which would fund education programs in or out of community college that have "strong employer partnerships."
[Matt Murphy contributed reporting.]
Editor's note: Cape Cod Community College President John Cox responds to Obama's plan. He says "We have many, many students who could benefit, and our community would gain from a more skilled workforce." Read the Op Ed here.