The federal program will allow community colleges to provide free tuition to unemployed, underemployed and low-income workers in skilled fields.
(TNS) — WASHINGTON, D.C. — The White House said Monday it is launching a new $100 million grant program to expand worker training as the administration works to make good on President Barack Obama's offer of two years of tuition-free community college.
The grants will be administered by the Department of Labor and will be used to expand partnerships between community colleges and job-training providers and employers. The goal is to make sure that workers are equipped with the skills they will need to pursue careers in high-demand jobs such as technology, manufacturing and health care.
Obama's plan, called America's College Promise, was patterned after Gov. Bill Haslam's Tennessee Promise scholarship program and is projected to cost $60 billion over the next 10 years.
Grant recipients must offer free tuition for unemployed, underemployed and low-income workers to enter skilled occupations and industries. Employers who partner with the colleges must offer work-based learning through registered apprenticeship, paid-work experience and paid internships.
"These programs work," said Vice President Joe Biden, who announced the grants Monday during a speech at the Community College of Philadelphia. The school has modeled a free community college program after tuition-free program the administration proposed last year.
Biden said the $100,000 in grants will enable community colleges to work with local companies or industries to find out what jobs skills they need. The schools then will design a program that prepares students for those jobs.
The grants will enable students to attend the programs tuition-free, which will mean they can use Pell grants and other student financial aid to pay for books, school supplies, child care or other living expenses.
"This is not rocket science," Biden said, arguing the grants will help build and grow the economy while "changing people's lives."
The grants are the latest push by the Obama administration to put a college degree within reach for anyone who wants it.
Obama kicked off the campaign last year when he travelled to Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville and proposed that as many as 9 million students should have access to two years of tuition-free community college. He also pitched the proposal during his State of the Union address a couple of weeks later.
Since Obama's announcement, 27 new free community college programs have launched in states, communities and community colleges. Collectively, the programs have added more than $70 million in new public and private investments to serve nearly 40,000 students at community colleges, the White House said.
In the GOP-controlled Congress, however, the program has generated little enthusiasm.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the Senate committee over education issues, has said the way to offer free community college is not through a federal program, but with a state-by-state approach.
U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, a Memphis Democrat, praised the Obama administration's new push to train workers for high-skilled jobs.
"In Tennessee, we achieved this through state lottery funds, over $3 billion of which have been distributed to achieving students to assist in paying for college and have done so much for education in the state," he said.
Cohen supports Obama's free community college initiative but has been critical of Tennessee's statewide plan because its source of funding comes at the expense of the Hope lottery scholarship, which he championed as a state senator.
©2016 The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tenn.), distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.