Debates rage as more states offer free college tuition

California adds free community college as some higher ed leaders warn of financial ruin
By: | August 29, 2019
A dozen states have enacted some form of free college tuition and several more are considering similar legislation to increase access to higher education.A dozen states have enacted some form of free college tuition and several more are considering similar legislation to increase access to higher education.

California is kicking off its first year of free community college tuition for first-time students. It joins a growing number of states that have launched ‘promise programs’ designed to make higher ed more accessible to students from low-income backgrounds, CNN reports.

Eleven other states have enacted free college tuition promise initiatives and several more are considering free tuition proposals, according to this Campaign for Free College Tuition map cited by CNN.

Two current front-runners for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, have made free college tuition and debt forgiveness linchpins of their campaigns.

And on Aug. 27, Birmingham, Alabama’s mayor, Randall Woofin announced that graduates of the city’s school district are eligible for free college tuition at the state’s two- or four-year state schools, AL.com reported.

“Free college is, obviously, not free,” Martha Kanter, executive director of the College Promise Campaign, said at FutureEd think tank at Georgetown University last year. “Promise is paid for one way or another by private funds, public funds or some combination of both. They guarantee financial support and ideally cover as much of the cost as possible.”


Read moreAssessing the true costs of free college


Some higher education leaders remain wary of free tuition plans. Gary A. Olson, president of Daemen College in New York, wrote in UB in 2017 that free tuition could spur a massive shift of students from private to public colleges.

“If students abandon private colleges and inundate the state’s public institutions, independent colleges that are already experiencing financial difficulty could potentially collapse,” Olson wrote.