Cooper's effort to launch free community college stalled
Roy Cooper said on the campaign trail that he’d “design a proposal for North Carolina to offer free tuition for community college.”
He rolled out his idea last March and it was included in the budget he proposed for this year. The program, known as NC GROW, would’ve paid for the full cost of tuition for students who had graduated from high school within the past 18 months and who had a 2.0 GPA or higher.
The state would have paid for what’s left over after students get financial aid through grants and scholarships. Cooper proposed using $19 million in lottery revenues to fund it.
“In my talks with business owners, I hear time and again that they have job openings but can’t find workers with the skills necessary to fill them,” Cooper said.
The plan, like Cooper’s budget, has gone nowhere. State Senate leader Phil Berger is skeptical of its long-term sustainability.
“There is no such thing as ‘free,’ and we would need to see what taxes he’d like to raise or what programs he’d like to cut to pay for it,” said Amy Auth, a spokeswoman for Berger.
We rate this promise Stalled.
Cooper outlines tuition-free community college plan
When the furniture, tobacco and textiles industries employed a large percentage of North Carolinians, a high school diploma was all many people needed to make a decent living.
But these days, the types of jobs that are growing in North Carolina often require at least some college education.
To that end, Gov. Roy Cooper promised when he was campaigning last year that he would come up with a plan to let North Carolinians attend community college for free.
"I will put together a team of education partners and budgetary advisors to design a proposal for North Carolina to offer free tuition for community college," he said.
Cooper brought the idea up again during his March 13 "State of the State" speech, given to members of the N.C. General Assembly, when he explained exactly how he'd like the program to work.
"To give people in the middle class more opportunity to afford higher education, let's pass a workforce program we call NC GROW - Getting Ready for Opportunities in the Workforce," Cooper said. "It means free community college – a scholarship to cover last-dollar tuition and fees for recent high school graduates to attend a North Carolina community college."
A week later, Cooper went on a statewide tour of community colleges to drum up publicity for his plan. He said it would help with economic development by cutting down on the skills gap that remains persistent in some parts of the state.
Cooper has suggested using lottery money to fund the program. His proposed budget would set aside $19 million for the first year – enough to put thousands of students through school tuition-free.
"To earn it, young people have to make good grades and apply for already-existing scholarships, loans and grant programs," Cooper said. "It's an idea that Republican and Democratic governors alike have supported in other states. We can make it a bipartisan reality here in North Carolina."
The plan is very similar to a program that Tennessee's Republican Gov. Bill Haslem and GOP-controlled legislature began two years ago.
But it remains to be seen if Cooper will be able to get similar support from North Carolina's GOP-controlled legislature. Local conservative groups like the Civitas Institute are skeptical of his proposal. And video from Cooper's "State of the State" speech shows his plan received applause from some legislators, but stony-faced silence from others.
For now, we rate this promise In The Works.
Official NC Governor page on Facebook, March 13, 2017, video of Cooper's "State of the State" speech. Community college tuition part of the speech starts around 18 minutes in.
PolitiFact North Carolina, March 14, 2016, "McCrory right that Cooper lacks a plan for paying but overstates what Cooper wants to pay for"
The News & Observer, March 13, 2017, "Cooper stresses cooperation in State of the State speech"
The News & Observer, March 22, 2017, "Cooper wants to use lottery money to offer free NC community college tuition"
Transcript of Roy Cooper "State of the State" speech, March 13, 2017, via WRAL-TV
Roy Cooper campaign website
Civitas Institute, March 6, 2017, "Gov. Roy Cooper's Education Budget: By the Numbers"