Tuition-free college?

It seems that the Northam administration is poised to propose actions that will address two of the concerns expressed in this blog—lessen the cost of higher education and help the middle class  In the tradition of well-timed leaks on budget proposals, the RTD reports today that the administration is considering some form of a tuition-free program for community colleges.

Although no final details are yet publicly available and those details are likely still being thrashed out in the budget development process, the basic outline seems clear. For low-income and middle-income students, the state would cover the difference between the total cost of tuition and any available federal aid. There would probably be some conditions attached to such assistance, such as the student committing to work in a public-sector job or in a “high-priority” field.

Such a plan could be a huge boost for low- and middle-income students. Community colleges already offer a relatively low-cost path to completing two years toward a four-year college degree or earning a two-year technical degree or credential. The proposal being considered would enable those students to accomplish those goals debt-free.

It will come at a cost to the state. The State Council of Higher Education in Virginia is requesting $50 million for the upcoming biennium to support increasing student access and affordability at community colleges.

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21 responses to “Tuition-free college?

  1. One of the insidious negatives to kids in low-income circumstances is that they feel that even if they do okay in school, they’ll never be able to go to college.

    If we could guarantee them acceptance if they have the academic AND behavioral bona fides – we may see less discipline issues.

    Kids need hope – they need to know there is a future for them if they work and achieve – as opposed to thinking that luck plays a bigger role and some kids are just unlucky but doomed for life verses kids born with built-in advantages.

    Another thing – we keep hearing that non-public schools for K-12 will be better than public schools for K-12. How come we don’t hear that for college?

  2. I like the ideas above … and here is the argument Bernie puts forth for ‘free college’…. Way back when if you finished grammer school you had enough understanding to survive a good paying job. Then a high school diploma was necessary to compete in society. Now, most of us could agree, a high school education is just not enough background to thrive in our much more complex society.

    Makes sense to me … so guaranteed tuition free community college would address the issue.

  3. I’m not always a big fan of “free” because I think some financial stake in the outcome is better, but the original mission of the VCCS schools to be very low cost has fallen away, and we need to get back to that, less cost for ALL, not just the lower income brackets. The guaranteed admission piece is also valuable, as Larry posits. Let’s see what the administration has in mind, and this may be fairly limited.

    As for private vs. public colleges, I suspect Harvard, Yale, Duke, Chicago and a score of other highly regarded private schools would argue their superiority. The best of the public schools beam with pride when they compare well to those leaders. Choices and competition are good things, Larry. No idea why that notion escapes you.

    • I understand the idea of having a financial stake, or skin in the game. First of all, books are not free and college texts can have a hefty price tag. Beyond that, I would not be opposed to having some sort of sliding scale for tuition. If someone could not afford even the lowest amount, waive tuition in exchange for some sort of genuine community service.

    • re: ” Choices and competition are good things, Larry. No idea why that notion escapes you.”

      Nope. I’m 100% all-in for competition – INCLUDING private schools that say they can handle the “discipline” problems BETTER than public schools.

      I’m even IN FAVOR of such schools getting a per-pupil funding dollop for their efforts AND a bonus if they “produce” more/better than those nasty old public schools!

      All I ask is that they NOT “cherry-pick” the easiest AND that they be held to the same accountability standards.

      I could well turn out that non-public schools CAN do a better job and we all should want that – but it has to be apples to apples…

  4. Not sure what to think of this, but I would say for skilled trades, work for the local govt. for a bit to gather experience – 2 to 3 years. That would help.

  5. We want free community college, more K-12 resources, more transit, more low-income housing, universal health care, refurbished houses for energy savings, community solar, etc., etc. This reminds me of being a kid before Christmas when the toy catalogs came out. Between my brothers and me, darn near every toy was circled. But we were just kids.

    Real adults set priorities. Real adults compare costs and benefits. What happened to the real adults in Virginia? Did reading the Washington Post sap our ability to think?

    And “of course,” Governor Coonman couldn’t be virtue signaling again. Could he?

    • I think in a fair evaluation process, making sure higher education is available and affordable would score very well. Clearly the 40 year pay off for the individual and society is there. But you are right that Northam has a long wish list, far longer than can be accommodated. How about right here and now we abandon the personal attacks against him. They worked so well in the last election, eh? (You didn’t see any of that crap from me.)

  6. Haha! Dick, it looks like you and I had diametrically opposed reactions to the Northam proposal. I’ll let my post (which followed yours by just a few minutes) speak for itself.

  7. Jane T. sums it up well, this is no more than returning to the principles behind providing a basic adequate “free” education for our citizenry of an earlier era; it’s the definition of adequate that has changed. And it’s still not free for the student, who still has to pay for living costs and supplies and student fees and transportation (not to mention the opportunity cost of not earning a wage), even if “tuition free.” Therefore many kids are not going to wait to join the workforce; but for those willing, this is a win/win for them and for the Virginia economy.

    • Acbar , if we fund free community college, what can we not fund?

      • One more little reason to add to my ‘times have changed’ argument … brain research now shows that the brain is not fully developed until the early 20’s.
        Those couple extra years of ‘free’ education would be well worth it for all of us.

      • Here is one significant correction to Jane’s latest progressive delusion, namely:

        “… brain research now shows that the brain is not fully developed until the early 20’s.”

        No, the human brain is not fully developed until its death.

        • “emerging science about brain development suggests that most people don’t reach full maturity until the age 25. “ and “That critical parts of the brain involved in decision-making are not fully developed until years later at age 25 or so. “

          Structural brain ‘Maturity’ and continued change are different. I fought hard to have the idea of brain changes occurring throughout life, but the process of developing the mature structure of the brain as a child grows is a different thing.

          Maybe you should actually think about what I put out instead of hopping on it looking for “progressive delusions”.

          • Reed Fawell 3rd

            This nonsense below proves my point beyond any doubt.

            “emerging science about brain development suggests that most people don’t reach full maturity until the age 25. “ and “That critical parts of the brain involved in decision-making are not fully developed until years later at age 25 or so. “

            Jane, when are you going to stop believing experts are Gods, acting as if a Labrador who adores her master?

            Cut yourself free. Think for yourself.

  8. One more time, what major program or major expansion of an existing program don’t we have to fund? And how do we measure the benefits of free community college?

    This reminds me of a meeting I attended where the Special Ed team for Fairfax County Public Schools was explaining its programs and operations. They were asked how they would know whether or not a very expensive expansion of a program for children with autism was successful or not? What were they measuring? The answers were essentially “We don’t know what to measure exactly” and “We won’t really ever know whether the program is successful; but we are doing it anyway.”

    • TMT – isn’t there quite a bit of “measuring” in the school systems overall even if in some areas like autism – it’s not that easy?

      You’re such a critic guy.

      They can do 10 things right but the one thing wrong they whacked on!!

      By no means are the school systems perfect or anything approaching. They have many flaws, and they do deserve to be called on it but who would you get to do better than them using the SAME standards you demand of the public schools?

      Constructive criticism is good – especially when the critics not only find fault but then point to an actual better way.

      We can look at just about everything in a half-glass lens.

      sometimes it’s half empty and no way to sugar coat it.

      but over all – there ought to be balance… some things do work and work well.. but we take them for granted and ignore them so we can zero in on the “bad” stuff!

      There are no good answers about “measuring” autism – anyone who has looked at it even casually knows how varied and different it is with respect to each child. Autism in the public school system is a HOT MESS that costs out the wazoo.. the parents of autistic kids are often combative and litigious and the schools are caught between those parents and their budgets and taxpayers.

      But I cannot point to that aspect of public schools to make an example of what they are failing at… it’s a tough gig and mostly lose-lose.

      • Larry, while I don’t have the expenditure figures handy, FCPS adopted a program for autism that reduced student-teacher ratios to 1-1 in many instances. The state limits were 6-1 or 8-1 with a teachers aide. Meanwhile, class size for many general education students were increased year after year. Is it responsible not to measure performance for such an expensive program that greatly exceeds state requirements; caused general education students to see degradation in class size; and increased real estate taxes?

        FCPS rarely loses any special education litigation. The law also provides for the payment of the school division’s legal fees if a parent loses the lawsuit. Of course, in Fairfax County puts that on taxpayers.

    • One measurement would be the increase in enrollment of low-income and middle-income students. Another would be the increase in certificates awarded–welding, nursing, whatever. Another would be the increase in number of students transferring from community colleges to four-year schools, along with an estimate of the costs they saved.

  9. As Jane is implying – let me ask the question – what justified – past tense the “free” k-12 school system?

    Originally, wasn’t the idea to have a person “job-ready” aftter they graduated? Many/most jobs back in the day – would say: ” high school education needed”.

    BUt times have passed. The education demands of the workplace have gone up – A LOT!

    Law Enforcement wants better educated applicants than just high school, for example. Most health care jobs – even basic nursing now require “certificates”. Many “para” type jobs require higher ed course-work in their fields.

    So, again, go back – what justified a “free” education way back? Why not a “free” K-5 and the rest had to be paid for?

    the attitude that if it is “free” – we’d ask well what else would we give away “free” since we’re giving all this stuff away?

    I call it “pay me now or pay me later”. Don’t like paying for MedicAid, TANF and food stamps? Is paying for education cheaper than those?

  10. What can I say Reed? My belief in facts and in the scientific process of discovery is probably just a manifestation of my demonic possession.

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