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He presented the plan to students in Knoxville, Tennessee, Friday afternoon, saying if students attend at least half-time, maintain a 2.5 grade point average and make progress toward completing a program he would eliminate their tuition.
"Community colleges should be free for those willing to work for it because in America, a quality education cannot be a privilege that is reserved for a few," Obama said.
Madison College President Jack Daniels says it's a good way to start a discussion on college costs.
"I think it is a combination of excitement but also trying to wonder what are we really trying to accomplish, as well as the funding capabilities," Daniels said.
It's unclear how the plan would increase demand at two-year schools, and Daniels says he'd like to see more details on the costs involved.
"You always get concerned if you're having dollars associated with a new program -- where does it come from?" Daniels asked. "We wouldn't want to see any decrease of other areas of funding where we're really serving our students."
Madison College student Tom Loos of Sun Prairie just finished his first semester and says he's on board with the idea.
"I think it would be a good opportunity if I didn't have to pay for it because a lot of people are struggling with money and working part-time jobs to go to school full time," Loos said. "I think it would help a lot of people think, 'I can get a college degree so I can get a better job or make more money.'"
The White House says the plan could cost $60 billion over 10 years. Madison student Jake Rosenbloom says it's worth it.
"I think our government spends a lot of money on a lot of pointless stuff," Rosenbloom said. "I think if they invested money in the more positive things we need, we could do it. I think our government can afford it."
The measure will likely be a hard sell in the Republican-controlled Congress, where it would need approval.
In a statement Friday, Rep. Paul Ryan of Janesville said he appreciated the sentiment behind the idea but said the plan was "far from free" and wouldn't bring down college costs.
The proposal also calls for the state to cover 25 percent of the cost of tuition for students. Gov. Scott Walker's office did not have any immediate comment on the plan Friday.
President Obama is expected to talk more about the plan in his State of the Union address Jan. 20.
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