Why free tuition isn't enough for some students

The typical undergraduate experience is pretty different than what most people imagine it to be, Gail Mellow, president of La Guardia Community College, writes for the New York Times.

Out of the 18 million undergraduates in the United States, more than 40% attend community colleges, Mellow writes. Of those, only 62% can afford to attend college on a full-time basis, she notes. Only 0.4% of undergraduates in the United States attend an Ivy League institution.

Despite what you might have pictured, most undergrads do not have fancy resumes with multiple unpaid internships, Mellow writes. Instead, 40% of undergrads work at least 30 hours per week—and 25% of undergrads work full-time and attend school full-time. They have much more on their plates than just attending classes, extracurricular activities, and parties, she points out.

Every $1,000 in state cuts cost students $257 in tuition

Students today also face financial pressures that can lead to stress, burnout, and dropping out, Mellow argues.

Tuition-free proposals can help, but there are many other factors that can contribute to college costs other than tuition. Writing for Education Dive, Autumn Arnett identifies three of the biggest non-tuition costs that students face.

1) Childcare: Roughly 25% of students have children. If childcare isn't available on campus, then these students need to cover the cost of childcare on their own.

Why federal financial aid isn't enough for students

2) Transportation: Students who are adults, raising children, or attending part-time are unlikely to live on campus, Arnett reports. These students will need reliable transportation to get to classes.

3) Books: Textbook prices have risen more than 1,000% since 1977, and in 2016, student focus groups told New America that their top concern about college was the price of books. Many students rely on financial aid refunds to pay for books and other expenses, Arnett reports, but not all free tuition programs are structured in a way that make financial aid refunds possible (Arnett, Education Dive, 8/28; Mellow, New York Times, 8/28). 


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