Behind every major policy initiative are influencers, lobbyists, interest groups, and the like. So who was behind Obama’s “free” community college plan?

Katherine Mangan and Beckie Supiano of The Chronicle of Higher Education write:

The Players Who Influenced Obama’s Free-College Plan

The White House proposal to provide free community-college tuition to millions of students bears some familiar fingerprints—from a researcher who championed the idea, a nonprofit group that has pushed some of its key strategies nationwide, and of course, existing plans in Tennessee and Chicago. Here are a few of the players that appear to have left their marks.

Sara Goldrick-Rab

When Sara Goldrick-Rab argued that two years of college should be free—as she has repeatedly in the past year—most everyone told her that that was impossible. Sometimes there was laughter.

While the idea sounded outrageous to many, she points out that community colleges were initially meant to be free. “It’s where we started,” she says. “We got lost.”

So President Obama’s announcement has been a vindication for Ms. Goldrick-Rab, a professor of educational-policy studies and sociology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Last spring she released a paper that proposed giving students two years of free college at any public institution. She presented it at a Lumina Foundation event in April. But even before that, Ms. Goldrick-Rab says, she discussed it with the White House’s Domestic Policy Council.

In the months since then, she has seen the idea gain traction in other corners of higher education. Then, last month, she got a call from a White House official saying it was moving forward with a free-college proposal.