Several states considering 'free tuition' bills of their own

Legislators in 10 states have proposed various plans

The idea of "free community college" has become significantly more popular among state legislators in light of the Obama administration's own proposal, Community College Daily reports.

The president's plan—known as America's College Promisefaces significant criticism from Republicans at the federal level. But within states, bills based on the concept are flourishing.

Legislators in 10 states introduced bills that would provide "free community college" in some manner—although half of those proposals have died, says Don Weeden, a National Conference of State Legislatures policy specialist.

What the plans look like

Five of the plans still remain, some of which draw inspiration from the Tennessee Promise, a "last dollar" scholarship that covers any costs remaining after other sources of aid have been applied:

  • Minnesota lawmakers proposed a plan that is very similar to the Tennessee Promise.
  • Oregon is considering a bill that is similar, but would require students to pay $50 per course and to have been state residents for at least one year. It does not require them to attend school full time.
  • In New York, a proposal would create a tuition reimbursement plan for students who earn a certain grade point average, attend full-time, and complete their degree within three years.

Free community college is already working in New York, some say

  • Oklahoma lawmakers introduced a bill that would make the first two years of tuition at two- or four-year institutions free for qualifying students.
  • In Arizona, a bill would also make the first two years of tuition at community colleges free provided America's College Promise is enacted, which would then only require the state to fund 25% of the tuition costs.

No easy path forward

Most importantly, the programs need long-term, sustainable funding, says Weeden. But he says other challenges linked to the programs exist as well, such as potentially overflowing community colleges, inaccurate estimates of how many students will apply for the programs, and pressure to ensure student success.

Once those complications are solved, the programs that only target recent high school graduates will need to be expanded to include older adults, according to Weeden.

Education leaders maintain hope

Even in states where "free tuition" bills failed, community college leaders say they remain hopeful for next year.

In Indiana, Jeff Terp, executive VP and COO of Ivy Tech Community College, says he expects a measure to do better next year.

"When people see the benefit in Tennessee, that will motivate other states to take a much more serious look at it," he says (Ashford, Community College Daily, 3/17).

The takeaway: Proposals for "free community college" have spiked among states following the Obama administration's rollout of America's College Promise.


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