Free community college proposal could impact WKU

Trey Crumbie

Free community college could have an impact on four-year universities, including WKU.

On Thursday, released a video of President Barack Obama outlining a “preview” of the State of Union address that is scheduled to take place Tuesday, Jan. 20. In the video, Obama said it is important for anyone to have the opportunity to improve their livelihood through education and offered a proposal to do so.

“Put simply, what I’d like to do is to see the first two years of community college free for everybody who is willing to work for it,” he said.

The proposal is called America’s College Promise.

According to a White House press release, in order for students to benefit they must attend community college at least half-time, maintain a 2.5 GPA and “make steady progress toward completing a program.”  Federal money would pay for 75 percent of the cost of community college while states that participate in the program will be expected to cover the other 25 percent.

The average cost for tuition and fees for a public two-year college is about $3,347 while a four-year public college is about $9,139 according to Trends in College Pricing 2014, a report by

Brian Meredith, chief enrollment and graduation officer, said Obama’s plan was “progressive” and that it would both help to improve access to education and help to educate the workforce if passed. Meredith added WKU was “ahead of the game” due to its Joint Admissions program.

“I just think that Joint Admissions would fit hand in glove with what the president has proposed,” he said.

The Joint Admissions program allows students to admit into a specific community college and WKU simultaneously. Once the student has completed their degree at the community college, they can transfer to WKU to get their bachelor’s. Students are eligible for WKU transfer scholarships and receive academic advising.

WKU has a Joint Admissions agreement with nine community colleges: seven that are apart of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, one in Tennessee and one in Indiana.

KCTCS is a system of 16 Kentucky community and technical colleges headquartered in Versailles.

Meredith said WKU’s transfer students from community colleges has picked up in recent years and by the proposed time that America’s College Promise takes effect, WKU would continue to see transfer students and that it will be in “good shape.”

“I don’t see it dipping in enrollment,” he said. “If we didn’t have the Joint Admissions in place, I might feel differently.”

During the Oct. 31, 2014 Board of Regents meeting, it was reported that there were 513 students enrolled at WKU who transferred from a KCTCS school. A 31 student increase, or 6.4 percent, from the 482 students that were enrolled in fall 2013.

Meredith said he was pleased see the topic of access to education being discussed at a national level.

“There’s well over 1,100 community colleges in the United States, across the country,” he said. “So…anytime you can increase the access to higher education, I think that’s probably a positive thing on the president’s part…”

Jay Box, president-elect of KCTCS, who will assume the position on Friday, said he was thankful Obama recognized the value of community colleges in postsecondary education. Box said if community college were to be free, it would help out adults who struggle to find the money to go to college.

“This would certainly be attractive to them…,” he said.

Box said he expects an increase in enrollment in KCTCS programs if Obama’s proposal were to be implemented. He is confident that KCTCS would be able to meet the demands of new students, but declined to go into specifics of how much enrollment would increase until more information about the plan is revealed.

Meredith said he hopes WKU’s relationship with KCTCS grows if Obama’s proposal becomes a reality.

“We want to hold hands with the KCTCS partners to make sure we’re…working with them and their students to meet their students’ needs…so that everyone in the Commonwealth of Kentucky wins.”