President Joe Biden proposed several “free college” measures during the campaign. Do any of them have a real shot? Some experts believe it.
“The issue is non-partisan in its appeal, economically effective, and backed by the leadership of today’s Congress and administration – that’s a pretty good triple game,” said Morley Winograd, president of the Free Tuition Campaign.
Others are skeptical, now is the time to move on to free college.
“It’s really hard for me to see a four-year free college program at this point,” said Douglas Webber, associate professor of economics at Temple University.
The first look at a formal proposal will most likely be seen in Biden’s upcoming budget, experts say. Here’s what to look for.
The tuition-free community college is most likely
“Free College” really means free classes. Students would still have to pay for room and board, along with other attendance costs such as transportation, books, and supplies. The average cost of room and board is $ 11,386 for a four-year school and $ 7,636 for a two-year school, according to federal data.
President Biden’s free college suggestions include:
– Four years of no tuition in public college for those whose family income is less than $ 125,000.
– Two years of free tuition for low and middle income students attending institutions that serve minorities.
– Public adult education centers that do not have lessons.
The latter is the easiest sale, say experts.
“We saw the free community college grow in popularity,” said Wesley Whistle, senior policy and strategy advisor for the Education Policy program in New America, a public policy think tank. “It became a drum and you hear it and that helps it improve over time.”
According to experts, the main blocker for a no-tuition program is cost, as such a program is likely to be funded by a federal-state partnership.
Community College is the cheaper bill: the cost of funding tuition in public two-year schools is around $ 8.8 billion, compared to around $ 72.5 billion in four-year public schools, according to the National Center for education statistics.
HOW ‘FREE’ COLLEGE CAN WORK
There is already a blueprint for tuition-free programs: currently 15 states have one program while some others have extensive scholarship programs. Some cities too.
Most state programs like the Tennessee Promise and the Excelsior New York Scholarship, both of which offer four-year, tuition-free public college, cost the last dollar. This means that students must submit the Free State Student Aid Application (FAFSA) and accept all state and state aid as needed before the tuition-free benefit takes effect.
Most experts say that a federally passed program would likely cost the first dollar to cover tuition fees before other grants are applied.
This could increase the impact of scholarships and government funding per student, says Edward Conroy, assistant director of institutional transformation for the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice.
“If we got a federal program that said we had tuition free and you could also get state or federal grants, it would be a robust program,” says Conroy. In this case, additional help could be used to cover additional costs.
PELL GRANT EXPANSION CAN BE EASIER
There is another route to college free, although the name is not “free”: the Pell Grant.
The Pell Grant Program provides free assistance to students who have a proven need. it’s up to $ 6,495 for 2021-22. While the Pell was supposed to cover most college expenses, it hasn’t kept up – the average tuition in four-year public schools is $ 9,212, according to the latest federal data.
Most experts say that doubling the maximum Pell grant would effectively result in free tuition and in some cases cover additional costs. Biden has called for this and has expanded the eligibility to cover more middle-income students.
Robert Kelchen, Associate Professor of Higher Education at Seton Hall University, says that an expanded Pell would be easier to pass than a tuition-free college because the scholarship program already exists.
Free college proposals are blown at the same time for not being generous enough and too generous for students with no proven need, experts say. This criticism makes it difficult to gain approval from both the legislature and the public.
The expansion of the existing Pell Grant program could result in free tuition fees, but it lacks the appeal of a new and “free” program.
“From a messaging perspective, saying that the Pell amount (grant amount) increases by $ 2,000, for example, may not have the same impact on students as” Your tuition is covered, “says Kelchen.
HOW STUDENTS CAN CUT COST
Tuition-free College Guidelines could take a long time to get through Congress – if at all – so students and parents may not see this benefit for many months or years. However, there are a few strategies to get a degree at a lower cost:
– Find out if your state already has a tuition-free program.
– Consider a public college, unless a private school offers you more help.
– Attend a two year school and then plan to transfer credits and get a four year degree.
– Compare college costs, graduation rates, and typical student loan payments against the US Department of Education college scorecard.
– Submit the FAFSA and accept all state and federal aid as needed.
– Find scholarships using search tools. The US Department of Labor has one.
– If your family’s finances have changed, get a professional judgment to appeal your aid.
This article was made available to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Anna Helhoski is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @AnnaHelhoski.
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