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Free Community College Gains Momentum

Oregon Democratic Governor Kate Brown has signed into a law a new measure that will make community college free for qualified state residents.

With $10 million in state funds, the Oregon Promise will allow high school graduates with a cumulative grade point average of at least 2.5 to apply for a grant to cover the full cost of tuition ($4,900) at any Oregon community college beginning in the 2016-17 academic year. The grant will be reduced by any state or federal aid, such as a Pell Grant, down to a minimum grant of $1,000.

About 4,000 to 6,000 students are expected to participate in the new program, which the governor made official last week with her signature.

Elsewhere, in Tennessee, Republican Governor Bill Haslam championed the Tennessee Promise, which will provide two years of community college free in that state beginning this fall. Nearly 58,000 students were expected to participate in that program.

President Obama would like these states to model what the federal government can do with America's College Promise, which he announced as a proposal in January. On July 8, a bill was introduced by Democrats in the U.S. Senate to provide 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. The America's College Promise Act of 2015 has a $90-billion price tag over 10 years and could benefit as many as 9 million students, according to coverage in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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