‘Free college’ helps middle class — not the poor
Students from low-income families don’t benefit from “free college” programs reports Lauren Camera on U.S. News.
They already pay little or no tuition, but struggle to pay for living costs. Many work so many hours they can’t handle a full-time college schedule.
Reports by the Education Trust and the Institute for Higher Education Policy conclude that “tuition-free” and “debt-free” programs benefit students from middle- and upper-income families.
Almost all free college programs use what’s known as a “last dollar model,” meaning they cover what’s left of a student’s tuition after other financial aid has been applied. For low-income students attending a community college, the federal Pell Grant typically provides enough aid to cover tuition entirely. But those students still shoulder the financial burden of books, food and housing, which only a handful of state programs take into account.
There are a few bright spots for needy students, writes Camera. Oklahoma, Louisiana and Maryland provide funding that can be used for living costs. “Indiana and Washington cover the cost of tuition on a ‘first dollar’ basis, so aid like Pell Grants can be used to cover non-tuition costs.”
Adam Harris sees “free” or “debt-free” college as a dream because states have limited funds. That leads to cost-saving restrictions “including limiting the tuition-free program to coursework at community colleges; only allowing students to study certain subjects; or requiring students to live and work in the state for several years after the program is complete. . . . Some states only offer free tuition to recent high-school graduates with a certain GPA; or they may mandate a drug test.”
NPR’s Cory Turner has more on the various “promise” programs.