NBC Boosts Obama's 'Ambitious' College Plan; Touts His 'Generosity'

Friday's NBC Nightly News enthusiastically promoted President Obama's proposal to provide "free" community college education, to the tune of $60 billion over ten years. Brian Williams hyped the "ambitious offer that could help so many families." Chris Jansing asserted that the President's plan is a "a goal everyone can agree on," but also underlined that the multi-billion dollar program is going to be a "tough sell to Congress." [video below]

Williams used his "ambitious offer" phrase as he previewed Jansing's report. He introduced the segment by outlining that "President Obama unveiled the goal of a nation where everyone has not only the chance, but also the means to go to college. He has a plan to put more careers on the launch pad with two years of community college tuition – courtesy of the government." The anchor added that "while for millions of us, a community college education can be the only viable option, the question is how to pay for this generosity?"

Jansing spotlighted a "working mom" in her late 20s from Maryland during opening and close of her report, who "argues with the President's plan, she'd already be the first person in her family to graduate – setting an example for her children." She summarized the general details of the Obama administration proposal, and highlighted that "the White House says this program will help as many as nine million students go to colleges like this one."

The NBC correspondent continued with her "tough sell to Congress" line, and noted that "spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner says, 'Without details to review, this plan is more like a talking point.'" She also noted that "a group dedicated to expanding college access is skeptical, too," and played a clip from Debbie Cochrane of The Institute for College Access and Success. Cochrane lamented that "tuition is just 20 percent of the total cost of going to a community college. It's those 80 percent of costs that can be the biggest barriers to students enrolling in college."

Jansing failed to mention, however, that Cochrane's organization was founded by Robert Shireman, who served as deputy undersecretary of education during President Obama's first term. Shireman is also currently under federal investigation for allegedly violating ethics laws in his dealings with his former group.

The transcript of Brian Williams's teaser and Chris Jansing's report from Friday's NBC Nightly News:

07:13 pm EST

BRIAN WILLIAMS (teaser): Still ahead on this Friday night: free college for millions of American students – an ambitious offer that could help so many families.


07:16 pm EST

BRIAN WILLIAMS: In Tennessee today, President Obama unveiled the goal of a nation where everyone has not only the chance, but also the means to go to college. He has a plan to put more careers on the launch pad with two years of community college tuition – courtesy of the government. And while for millions of us, a community college education can be the only viable option, the question is how to pay for this generosity?

Our report tonight from NBC's Chris Jansing.

CHRIS JANSING (voice-over): Twenty-eight-year-old Akita Hodge is a working mom. Five years ago, she started a two-year program at Maryland's Montgomery College, but had to quit because she just didn't have the money.

AKITA HODGE: And how much am I going to owe? Will they be able to pay it back? How do I do this? And then, it's like – should I be here?

JANSING: Those questions wouldn't have come up, she says, if the program just proposed by President Obama had been in place.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Two years of college will become as free and universal as high school is today.

JANSING: To qualify for free tuition – on average, $3,800 a year – students of any age would have to go to school at least half-time, keep a C-plus average and make 'steady progress' toward their degree. The federal government would pick up three-quarters of the tab. States would have to pay the rest.

JANSING (on-camera): The White House says this program will help as many as nine million students go to colleges like this one.

JANSING (voice-over): But at $60 billion over ten years, with no details yet on where the money's coming from, it's a tough sell to Congress. A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner says, 'Without details to review, this plan is more like a talking point.' And a group dedicated to expanding college access is skeptical, too.

DEBBIE COCHRANE, THE INSTITUTE FOR COLLEGE ACCESS AND SUCCESS: Tuition is just 20 percent of the total cost of going to a community college. It's those 80 percent of costs that can be the biggest barriers to students enrolling in college.

JANSING: Akita Hodge is now back in school for the first time in four years, and argues with the President's plan, she'd already be the first person in her family to graduate – setting an example for her children.

HODGE: To have that great job; to actually own that business; to go somewhere bigger in life.

JANSING: Stated simply like that, it's a goal everyone can agree on. The conversation about how to achieve it gets complicated. Chris Jansing, NBC News, Rockville, Maryland.

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