Is Obama’s plan for free community college for qualified Americans as good as it sounds?

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SOUTH BRONX, New York (PIX11) -- A better job, more marketable skills, and simply knowing more -- all for free.  That's what students at community colleges would get under a new proposal from President Barack Obama, if his proposal becomes law.  That's a big if, however, and even some college students are skeptical that the president's plan to make community college free of charge can happen for them.  They're also unsure if the quality of education would be high, were the proposal to become reality.

Still, students like Steven Rodriguez of Hostos Community College in the South Bronx point out that no matter what happens on this issue, a community college schedule is not easy.

"I go [to class] 8:00 to 3:30," said the third semester student, who balances a job at H&M daily from 5:00 P.M. to 11:00 P.M. with his class schedule.  "I barely sleep, that's the problem," he told PIX11 News.  "I take Thursdays off from work, so I can do my homework."

Hostos nursing student Diamond Ottey further pointed out the challenges of community college life.  "It's hard living in New York City," she said.  "It's expensive, with rent, and jobs are not paying."

Challenges like those are part of the reason why every student PIX11 interviewed had a similar reaction to learning that President Obama had proposed free community college tuition nationwide.

"Really?" said Hostos student Jennifer Jimenez, unable to hide the look of pleasant surprise on her face.  "That's pretty cool.  That's awesome, actually."

The president's formal announcement came around 2:15 Friday afternoon.  He called it "An ambitious new plan to bring down community college cost in America.  I want to bring it down to zero," he said, amid thunderous applause.

It came from the audience at a community college in Tennessee, a state whose Republican governor and U.S. senators have made free community college happen there.  The same is true in the president's hometown of Chicago.

"If a state with Republican leadership is doing this," said the president, "and a city with Democratic leadership is doing this, why don't we all do it?"

It's clear there's a need for financial help.  In New York City alone, tuition and other costs for a student living on their own is about $25,000 a year.  A student living at home pays more than $11,000 for tuition and other costs.  The tuition piece of those equations could be eliminated if the president's plan becomes law.

"That's a revolution in education," said CUNY education professor David Bloomfield.  "It's a revolution in income equality and a war against ignorance.  I really couldn't be happier."

Bloomfield is among many education experts who see the benefits of the president's proposal, which is being called America's College Promise.  Some students, however, while they expressed positive feelings about the program, are nonetheless skeptical about it.

"If it's free," said Paloma Jimenez, a high school senior applying to Hostos Community College, "sometimes things aren't as good as if you pay.  You've got to keep in mind that, too."

Melissa Carreno, a senior at Lehman College, questions the idea.  "Even though it's free," she told PIX11 News, "I'm kind of curious to know how it's going to happen."

She was aware that the price tag for the president's proposal is not small -- $60 billion over 10 years.  Also, with the GOP controlling both houses of a Congress that's eager to reduce government spending, the likelihood of the nationwide free community college plan becoming reality is slight at best.

Still, President Obama said he intends to address the issue further in his State of the Union address the week after next.  Meanwhile, the White House is saying that the president is"opening a conversation" about community college being universally free of charge.