Is Free Better?

Career College Central summary:

  • Making community college free has become a popualridea. Over the last two weeks politicians in Tennessee, Oregon and Mississippi have proposed a tuition-free first two years of community college for their states’ high school graduates. Higher education leaders have welcomed the attention, as well as possible new pots of money aimed at lower-income students.
  • Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education, said the proposal from Tennessee’s governor, Bill Haslam, was "extraordinarily important." He said it could be as "potentially far-reaching" as any state-based student access push since the creation of Georgia's HOPE scholarship in the early '90s. However, Hartle and several other experts said the funding proposals raise significant questions. They urged a cautious, thoughtful approach and warned about a range of possible unintended consequences – such as driving students away from public, four-year institutions.
  • More strategic ways of using state support could actually do a better job of helping students who need it the most. Kay McClenney, director of the Center for Community College Student Engagement, said state scholarship funds for lower-income students are often short of money. For example, Oregon’s Opportunity Grant, a need-based scholarship program, is “terribly underfunded,” said Elizabeth Cox Brand, director of communications and research for the state’s Department of Community Colleges and Workforce Development.
  • Lawmakers have received praise praised lawmakers in the three states for trying to help the most vulnerable of college students. Major new funding proposals aimed at community college students are rare. And badly needed state support could draw more lower-income students into college and help them get to graduation.

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