Moving America Forward

Inside the Movement for Free Community College

February 10, 2014
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Inside the Movement for Free Community College
Students protest the rising costs of student loans for higher education, in Los Angeles, Calif., September 22, 2012. David McNew/Getty Images
How politicians in Tennessee, Oregon and Mississippi are going against the national trend of increasing college tuition.

With the rising costs of a college degree, our country’s total student loan debt has soared past a staggering $1 trillion. We’ve read the stories of crippling debt and the consequences it carries. So, in an effort to buck this worrying trend, lawmakers in three separate states have proposed big plans for higher education: free community college.

Tennessee
In his State of the State Address, Gov. Bill Haslam proposed that all of the state’s high school graduates could attend Tennessee’s community and technical colleges for free for two years. The plan, called the “Tennessee Promise,” would be funded by $300 million in state lottery money. “We are fighting the rising cost of higher education, and we are raising our expectations as a state,” Haslam said. “We are committed to making a clear statement to families that education beyond high school is a priority in the state of Tennessee.” If the plan passes, Haslam said that Tennessee would become the only state to offer this guarantee — unless these next two states don’t beat Tennessee to the punch.

Mississippi
Although it didn’t make a big splash in the news, Mississippi also has plans for free community college. Their state legislature passed a bill that would make all 15 of the state’s community colleges tuition-free for high school students who enroll within 12 months of graduation, Inside Higher Ed reports. The bill still needs approval from the Appropriations Committee and the full House, but if it passes, the program would cost less than $4.5 million per year for the 75,000-student system. The catch? Mississippi would only step in to cover a student’s tuition after they tap out federal and institutional financial aid.

MORE: The Surprising University That’s Educating a Huge Number of Olympic Athletes

Oregon
Lastly, the Oregon senate unanimously approved a bill that would study the idea of free community college in the state. The study would help determine whether or not the state should take up this issue next year. Lawmakers suggested that two years of tuition for the state’s 32,000 high school graduates would cost between $100 and $200 million, so the study would help determine where funding would come from, Oregon Live reports. Granted, Oregon has taken a small first step, but it’s an important one to get things going. As Sen. Mark Hass said after the bill’s approval, “Next year when you see this concept hopefully on the floor, the homework will be done, the rules will be in place and the options will be clear.”

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