Free tuition proposed across country

Chris Dejohn, TSV Staff Writer

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Proposed legislature that will award two years’ worth of free tuition for high school graduates recently made it to the senate in Tennessee. A similar program in Oregon passed as well, granting students free tuition as long as they “pay it forward” after graduation. Both proposals caused a ripple across the country. According to the California State Assembly Education Committee, 19 states, including California are wondering if they too could possibly find a way to offer free tuition.

Highlighting his new proposal, the Governor of Tennessee gave his State of the State address on Monday, Feb. 3, 2014 that made news all the way to California. The “Tennessee Promise” basically says that the first two years of community college will be free to all high school graduates within the state. According to ABC News affiliate, WBBJTV.com, Governor Haslam’s proposal won a vote of 8-1 out of the Tennessee State Senate Education Committee on Wed., March 12. To clarify, the proposal hasn’t passed yet and is still “up in the air.” It’s part of Haslam’s “Drive 55” campaign, a program geared toward boosting the number of Tennesseans with a certificate or an associate’s or bachelor’s degree from the state’s current 32 percent up to 55 percent.

While this proposal may seem like the answer to all of our financial woes when it comes to higher education, some experts heed that there might be some fine print that gets overlooked. In other words, the “free education” headline looks fantastic but there could be some hidden, unintended consequences.

“I certainly believe that government and policy makers are coming out of positive motives,” Kay McClenney, Director of the Center for Community Colleges and Student Engagement said. “Society needs encouragement and support … especially when it comes to community colleges but they should step back and really think about it.”

McClenney believes that institutions and government should try to look at all of the angles before committing to such an undertaking.

“There’s a lot that needs to be done before a program like this will work,” McClenney said. “The real question is, how much does the country want to support making college a real opportunity for the people who can least afford it.”

On the other hand, there are some experts who are eager to support a “free tuition” program for community colleges.

“People get sticker-shock most of the time when they see what it costs to go to college,” said David Baime, Senior Vice President of the American Council on Education. “A program like the one in Tennessee can truly create access.”

According to a background source at the California State Assembly Committee on Higher Education, to help more California community college students attain higher education by transferring to a 4-year university from a 2-year community college, California Sen. Alan Lowenthal wrote Senate Bill 1456. This bill is said to “restructure the way student support services are delivered, improve the assistance that students receive at the beginning of their educational experience, provide that campuses using an assessment instrument for student placement utilize a statewide system of common assessment once available, improve consistency and efficiency,andrequire students whose fees are waived because of their economic need to meet minimum academic standards” among other things. Basically SB1456 says that it’s OK for a committee made up of representatives from the CSU and UC organizations and the Student Aid Commission to meet up and decide where and when to conduct a study on whether or not a program like the one in Tennessee or Oregon will be feasible in California.

“Of course it sounds like a great idea but there are always the unforeseen downsides to everything. I haven’t heard of anything like this coming out for us,” Regina Morrison, Director of Financial Aid Services at Skyline College said. “We’ve offered the Board of Governors Fee Waiver for over 17 years.”

Many California community colleges offer the Board of Governors (BOG) Fee Waiver. It permits enrollment fees to be waived for eligible California residents who qualify. In some instances the BOG Fee Waiver can even assist with purchasing books.

For more information of the BOG Fee Waiver please visit: http://www.skylinecollege.edu/financialaid/feewaiver.php