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SPRINGFIELD — A top state education official says she's excited about President Obama's plan to provide students with two years of free community college.

Illinois Community College Board’s Executive Director Karen Hunter Anderson told reporters Friday the move, if approved, could affect 340,000 students in the state.

The president's proposed plan calls for granting two years of community college free to students who maintain good grades.

Anderson said almost all of the state’s 48 community colleges offer tuition- free school to those who qualify, and this proposal would work with those programs already in place. The state would be responsible to pay one-fourth of the cost, while the federal government would pay the rest.

Officials at Heartland Community College in Normal are among those looking forward to learning more about the possible opportunities for potential students.

“Efforts to enhance access and affordability of higher education to all residents of our district is encouraging,” said Heartland spokeswoman Becky Gropp.

Anderson supports the plan because leaders of Illinois are trying to ensure everyone has a post-secondary education. And, she doesn't believe the two-years of free community college education would decrease universities’ enrollment.

“If we see an increase in the number of students enrolling in a community college, then they’re going to see an increase in the number of students transferring from community college to a university,” Anderson said.

Anderson said the program is not focused on helping those already attending community colleges, but to encourage those who are not attending, to attend.

“The intent is not to get more of the current pool of students into community colleges. The intent is to reach out to those students who aren’t taking advantage of post-secondary education, and get them involved in an academic program or a vocational program that will allow them to become better citizens, get better jobs and get a college degree,” Anderson said.

If the state decides to participate in the program, all community colleges in Illinois would be eligible.


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