Joining Together to Move the Conversation on Tuition-Free College ForwardWalter G. Bumphus | President and CEO, American Association of Community Colleges
Today more than ever, a postsecondary education is critical to success in the labor market. However, costs for higher education are skyrocketing and the discussion around access and completion has dominated national discourse. Two-year colleges are providing some fascinating solutions to these challenges. Starting in Tennessee and spreading across the country, the tuition-free community college movement is driving home the idea that higher education should be accessible to anyone willing to work for it. Recently, the Association of Community College Trustees and the American Association of Community Colleges joined together to serve on the National Advisory Board for the College Promise Campaign, a group focused on furthering the America’s College Promise Initiative. In this interview, Walter Bumphus of the AACC discusses a few of the challenges standing in the way of America’s College Promise and shares his thoughts on how the College Promise Campaign can help to move the innovative initiative forward.
The EvoLLLution (Evo): What have been some of the most significant challenges in gaining widespread support for America’s College Promise since its announcement earlier this year?
Walter Bumphus (WB): The American Association of Community Colleges is proud to be a part of such a watershed initiative. Bringing awareness to the concept of investing in postsecondary education at a national level has not been without challenges, but is critical to the future of the 12 million students served by the nation’s community colleges.
An educated America is a strong America and we will continue to work to effectively communicate the concept of debt-free community college education to students that are willing to work for it.
Evo: How will the College Promise Campaign help push the free two-year college movement over these roadblocks?
WB: The College Promise Campaign is a long-term strategy to ensure that community colleges remain a part of the national conversation regarding postsecondary education. In recent years, community colleges have been recognized for their contributions to the nation’s workforce and economy, not to mention the unprecedented access they provide to higher education. For many students, the access provided by community colleges is a gateway to the middle class, which they would not be able to obtain otherwise. These are just a couple of reasons why the College Promise Campaign will help us to keep community colleges in the forefront at the national level.
Evo: What are a few of the programs and services that the College Promise Campaign will strive to highlight, and how can these programs serve as a model for the rest of the country?
WB: There is no one model that will work for every college. The College Promise Campaign is looking to elevate the discussion regarding the need to invest in postsecondary education. How that happens will be as diverse as our many colleges and students.
The Tennessee College Promise is one example of how a community college can work with the state’s administration to leverage investments in education for students willing to earn a degree or certificate. That model works well in Tennessee. There are many other models throughout the country and the College Promise Campaign is working to identify and share all of these programs to serve as models.
Evo: Is the free two-year tuition environment more likely to become a reality as the result of a bottom-up movement—where colleges and states introduce their own free tuition programs—or as a top-down movement legislated by the federal government?
WB: Our college presidents are civic leaders. Local and state educators know best how to serve their communities. The policy work of determining the type of federal investment and how it is administered will continue at the national level.
The College Promise Campaign is non-partisan and brings together sector leaders from education, business, government and philanthropy. The details of any policy initiative are critical to the success of the program that the College Promise Campaign board will work together to continue to share successful models, to communicate the need for investing in community colleges, and bringing experts to the administration to advise on policies and procedures. As a nation, we are on the cusp of creating access for millions of Americans to higher education and pathways to higher paying jobs.