Rep. Black Statement on President Obama’s Free Community College Proposal

Jan 8, 2015 Issues: Education

Washington, D.C. –Congressman Diane Black (R-TN-06) released the below statement on President Obama’s proposal to offer students free tuition for the first two years of community college. The concept is based on the “Tennessee Promise” initiative.

“As a first generation college graduate and a former educator, I desire to see every student have an opportunity to pursue higher education,” said Congressman Diane Black. “But the President must understand that the solutions we have adopted in our state, like Tennessee Promise, work because they are done the Tennessee way, not the Washington way. Tennessee Promise is a state-led initiative designed to meet the unique needs of our students. The program is paid for by a lottery reserve fund that will allow us to continue balancing our budget each year and will not result in added costs to hardworking taxpayers. By contrast, the President’s proposal appears to be a top-down federal program that will ask already cash-strapped states to help pick up the tab.”

Rep. Black added, “While the White House says that three quarters of the program would be paid for with federal funding, I have yet to hear what offsets, if any, would be proposed to ensure Americans are not saddled with greater debt and deficits as a result. Will the President offer proposals to make his plan budget-neutral, or will he attempt to charge it to the credit card? Ultimately, any efforts to reboot Tennessee Promise as a one-size-fits-all nationwide approach will be met with heavy skepticism from Congress.”


Signed into law in May 2014, the Tennessee Promise program offers to pay the first two years of community college or technical college tuition for high school graduates in the state of Tennessee. The program does not cover tuition costs for returning adults. Tennessee Promise matches participating students with a mentor to help navigate the college admissions process and requires participants to maintain a 2.0 GPA and complete eight hours of community service per term enrolled. Tennessee Promise protects taxpayers from being left on the hook for the cost of the program by including language authorizing the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation (TSAC) to make adjustments to award amounts in the unlikely event that revenue from the state lottery reserve fund is insufficient to cover its full cost.

According to the White House blog, under the President’s proposed initiative, “Federal funding will cover three-quarters of the average cost of community college. Participating states will be expected to contribute the remaining funds necessary to eliminate the tuition for eligible students.”


Congressman Diane Black represents Tennessee’s 6th Congressional District. She has been a registered nurse for more than 40 years and serves on the House Ways and Means and Budget Committees.