- Associated Press - Friday, February 6, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - President Barack Obama’s proposal to make two years of community college free got a warm welcome Friday from Ivy Tech Community College students who heard about the plan during the president’s town hall meeting in Indianapolis.

More than 80 Ivy Tech students, many seated in bleachers beneath a large sign reading “Middle Class Economics,” applauded and some cheered when the president described the free tuition plan that’s part of his proposed federal budget.

Obama’s budget aims to boost the middle class by increasing taxes on the wealthy. It’s gotten a cool reception from Republicans who control Congress. States would have to cover about a fourth of the program’s estimated $60 billion cost over 10 years, and they would have to meet other criteria, including reducing the need for remedial classes.

Audrey Hill, a 36-year-old mother of two who’s pursuing a culinary degree at Ivy Tech’s Indianapolis campus and dreams of becoming a pastry chef, called the proposal a “great idea.”

“It would give people a chance if they really didn’t have the chance or the means to go to school,” said Hill, who graduates in May and said she has amassed a significant amount of student loan debt.

The president took a series of questions from the crowd of nearly 400 after he touted his higher education agenda, including the tuition proposal that he said would be available to “every responsible student” and would help reduce millions of students’ debt.

“Here in America, it shouldn’t matter how much money your folks make. If you’re willing to work hard, you should be able to get that opportunity,” Obama said.

Mario Keisman, a 19-year-old who’s taking liberal arts and general courses at Ivy Tech and hopes to eventually get a marketing degree, said he has about $8,000 in student loans and would love to take advantage of a free tuition offering. Keisman also said he’s glad Obama’s proposal comes with stipulations, including requiring students to maintain at least a 2.5 GPA.

“For people willing to work for it, that would be a great opportunity. But I only think it should only be free if they graduate. If they start and don’t finish they should have to pay for it,” Keisman said.

Chris Bowen, the student government president of Ivy Tech’s Indianapolis campus, told Obama that he and his fellow students could benefit from a tax credit for college textbooks because those costs are soaring.

Obama said he understands the financial pressures on college students, saying both he and first lady Michelle Obama graduated from college with student loan debt that took 10 years to pay off.

“When Michelle and I got out - when we got married - in addition to the bonds of love, we had the bonds of debt,” he said, stirring laughter in the audience.

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