America's College Promise Act

Every student in America deserves a fair shot at a higher education and a path to the middle class. A highly educated workforce also helps our nation compete in a global economy. By 2020, an estimated 65 percent of job openings will require postsecondary education or training. At the same time, approximately 100 million adults in America today have no college experience. Students should have the opportunity to gain the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in the 21st century—without drowning in student debt.

Nearly a century ago, a movement made high school widely available, which helped lead to rapid growth in the education and skills training of Americans, driving decades of economic growth and prosperity. In his 2015 State of the Union address, President Obama called on Congress to make a bold investment in our nation’s students, its workforce and the future of our economy by making two years of community college free.

In July 2015, Senator Baldwin answered the call with the America’s College Promise Act, aimed at providing students a stronger and more affordable opportunity to gain the skills they need to compete, succeed and prosper by making an investment in workforce readiness, our economy and our future.

Modeled after successful state programs in Oregon and Tennessee, the America’s College Promise Act makes two years of community college free and provides an affordable pathway for low-income students to a four-year college degree. The legislation would give students the opportunity to access quality and affordable higher education that gives them the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in the 21st century economy. 

Senator Tammy Baldwin:

“Higher education should be a path to shared prosperity, not a path into suffocating debt. But unfortunately, college costs and student loan debt are holding back an entire generation and creating a drag on economic growth for our country. America needs out-educate the rest of the world in order to better compete in a 21st century, skills based economy. The America’s College Promise Act is an investment in workforce readiness and our economy. I’m proud to champion this legislation in order to give all students the opportunity to gain the skills they need to compete, succeed, and prosper.”

Under the America’s College Promise Act, a full-time community college student could save an average of $3,800 in tuition per year. According to the U.S. Department of Education, if all states participated under this program, an estimated 9.8 million total students could benefit by 2025. This legislation:

  • Creates a new partnership between the federal government and states and Indian tribes to help them waive resident tuition in two years of community and technical college programs for eligible students, while promoting key reforms to accelerate student success;
  • Provides a federal match of $3 for every $1 invested by the state to waive community college tuition and fees for eligible students before other financial aid is applied;
  • Ensures that programs offer academic credits which are fully transferable to four-year institutions in their state, or occupational training that leads to credentials in an in-demand industry;  
  • Maintains and encourages state funding for higher education; and
  • Establishes a new grant program to provide pathways to success at minority serving institutions by helping them cover a significant portion of tuition and fees for the first two years of attendance for low-income students.    

During a visit to La Crosse, Wisconsin, President Obama highlighted this proposal saying:

"Now, in an economy that's constantly changing, we've also got to give every American the chance to earn the skills they need to stay competitive. That’s why we've got to be investing in job training and apprenticeships that help folks earn the skills for that new job or better-paying job. That's why we should make community college free for responsible students -- like Tammy Baldwin is introducing in the United States Senate. No middle-class family should be priced out of the education that they need."

The America’s College Promise Act is cosponsored by over 80 members of the House of Representatives and the following members of the United States Senate: Senators  Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Ed Markey (D-MA), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Chris Murphy (D-CT),  Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

The legislation has also been endorsed by: AFL-CIO, Alliance for Equity in Higher Education, American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC), Asian American and Pacific Islander Association of Colleges and Universities (APIACU), Asian and Pacific Islander Scholarship Fund (APIASF), Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT), Campaign for America’s Future, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), Consumers Union, Generation Progress, Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU), National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO), National Education Association (NEA), National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA), National Skills Coalition, One Wisconsin Now, Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC), Student Debt Crisis, The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network, Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), United Negro College Fund (UNCF), University of Wisconsin Colleges and University of Wisconsin Extension, and Wisconsin Technical College System.

Learn more about the America’s College Promise Act here.