Michigan joins free college push with latest proposal
- Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday proposed a free community college plan that aims to raise the share of state residents with a postsecondary degree or credential from 45% to 60%, according to The Detroit Free Press. The plan, which would take effect in 2021 if approved, would cost between $80 million and $100 million annually.
- Under the proposal, in-state students would receive state funds to pay for tuition once they had applied all other sources of aid. There are no income requirements that limit who can participate in the plan.
- The plan also includes a $2,500 scholarship for students attending four-year colleges who meet certain income and grade requirements. Another proposed program, called Michigan Reconnect, would let adult students enroll in community colleges or other training programs for free.
Michigan would join some 20 other states that have free college initiatives, some of which have seen success.
Tennessee, which rolled out its free-tuition program for community colleges in 2015, had a 60% increase in the number of students who earned a degree or credential among the first class to benefit from the initiative.
Likewise, the Community College of Rhode Island doubled the number of full-time students who enrolled straight from high school after it launched a free tuition program in 2017, The Providence Journal reported. It also saw twice as many low-income and minority students enroll full-time.
Such efforts can have an impact on social mobility. In a 2018 paper, Princeton University postdoctoral fellow Jack Mountjoy found increased access to two-year institutions can boost earnings, though it diverts some students from going to four-year colleges.
Free tuition is not without its critics, however, who say it can have a negative effect on the economy and point out that community colleges tend to have lower graduation rates.
However, others say free college initiatives don't go far enough. The Education Trust spelled out in a recent report eight ways college could become more accessible for low-income and disadvantaged students, including by covering living costs, providing free tuition for four years and opening such programs up to adults.
Two recent surveys reveal how non-tuition costs can create barriers for community college students.
The Hope Center found half of surveyed community college students in California were food insecure in the last month, 60% were housing insecure in the last 12 months and 19% had experienced homelessness in the past year. Another report, from Revealing Institutional Strengths and Challenges, showed community college students faced "a dizzying array of demands outside of college," including juggling work and school, paying expenses and struggling to find parking.
- The Detroit Free Press Community college could become free in Michigan: How Whitmer's plan works