Will Community Colleges Become Tuition-Free?

Will Community Colleges Become Tuition-Free?
Learn about movements around the country to make community college courses tuition-free for qualifying students.

Due to the financial challenges incoming students face, many local and state leaders are advocating for tuition-free community college programs. As community colleges strive to provide local residents with programs for certification, degrees, and training, many community leaders argue that tuition-free programs will help students to more effectively prepare for the job market without being subjected to excessive educational costs during difficult economic times.

This video offers one solution for making public colleges tuition-free.

The Tuition-Free Debate

As Diverse Community College reveals in their investigation, the county majors of both Knoxville and Memphis assert that residents of their communities should have access to free public education at local community colleges. Mayors A.C. Wharton and Mike Ragsdale of local Tennessee counties argue that, in utilizing the resources of scholarships and grants that are currently available, local community colleges can shift their current programs to create tuition-free pathways for incoming and current students. As Tennessee, along with most states across the country, are struggling with job losses and a struggling economy, Wharton argues that the shift for tuition-free programs is Tennessee’s attempt at creating a more effective and prepared work force: “‘We want to blast our way into being able to produce a world-class work force. You can't do that with merely a high school diploma.’”

By collaborating with community college and local political leaders, the Tennessee mayors are working to establish a proposal that will provide residents with tuition-free access to higher education. As the leaders describe, “The community college program, as envisioned, would provide public and private money to cover the amount of community college tuition that exceeds financial assistance for students already provided by state and federal scholarships and grants.” Essentially, after a community college student has applied for and received scholarship and grants to cover the cost of tuition, the Tennessee leaders desire to provide each student with supplemental funds to cover the excess costs that still remain.

Specifically, in examining the potential benefits of this approach, leaders assert that during the 2006 to 2007 academic year, over 870 community college freshmen enrolled in various community institutions in one local county, resulting in a total grant endowment of nearly $272,000. Despite this incredible grant and scholarship distribution, most freshman students still did not receive enough funding to cover the cost of their academic program and classes. This particular county would need to raise approximately $1.4 million dollars to finance the ideal tuition-free community college program.

This video reports on free tuition in community colleges in California.

Current Tuition-Free Programs

While various Tennessee counties, as well as many other counties across the country, are still striving to create proposals that would ensure tuition-free access to higher education programs, some community colleges have already created specific programs with zero cost for students! Specifically, Lorain Community College (LCC), located in Elyria, Ohio, provides residents and students with various tuition-free classes for up to two years. As LCC reveals, students can take advantage of programs that pay for their own tuition costs, while students additionally have access to “Courses that are guaranteed transferable to all state-funded colleges and universities in Ohio.”

Essentially, with the support and tuition-free assistance at LCC, “You get a quality education while conserving your education funds for future academic pursuits.” Most notably, LCC even provides high school students with tuition-free credit opportunities. With this incentive, younger students can begin to prepare for their collegiate studies prior to earning their high school diploma, making the long-term pathway of higher education more cost-effective and affordable.

To take advantage of the tuition-free programs at LCC, students must meet various academic requirements. Foremost, Lorain County high school graduates must hold at least a 3.7 GPA at the end of their sixth semester (junior year) in order to be eligible for specific scholarships that cover around 60 to 72 credit hours over the course of a two years span. While the 3.7 GPA may sound rather severe, LCC also provides opportunities for reduced tuition for students who have earned a GPA of 3.4 or above as well. Students who minimally earned a 3.4 at the end of their junior year may be eligible for a 75% overall reduction in tuition costs for classes and credits.

While the details of tuition-free programs are still being debated, there is indeed hope on the horizon for students to secure quality education at minimal costs.

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