Even before President Barack Obama last week proposed free community college nationwide for students with a 2.5 grade point average, the plan had drawn plenty of attention.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law last summer the prototype for Obama’s proposal. The first class of tuition-free students will enter Tennessee community colleges next fall. Money for the Tennessee plan comes from state lottery proceeds – about $300 million.
North Carolina lawmakers and Gov. Pat McCrory should take note. Haslam hopes a better educated population will draw more industries to his state, with the potential of offering higher-paying jobs. Haslam has set an admirable goal: Graduate 55 percent of Tennessee’s population from college by the year 2025.
That kind of competitive policy could have a real impact on neighboring North Carolina, where state leaders also want to attract jobs.
Obama’s proposal already has drawn criticism from Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. “Why stop there?” Jindal asked. “Why not have the government buy a car and a house for everyone?”
But don’t be too quick to look at the proposal through a partisan politics lens. Obama is a Democrat, of course, and Jindal is a Republican. But Haslam, the Tennessee governor who initiated the idea, is Republican. And one of the big critics he has faced is U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, a Tennessee Democrat.
Since the partisanship around the proposal is decidedly murky, why not consider the proposal on its own merits, for once? That might be more fruitful than the partisan tag attached to its sponsor.