Dear Commons Community,
The Chronicle of Higher Education has a lead article this morning on the tuition-free community college movement that is gaining traction throughout the country. In addition, new initiatives are evolving that would extend free or reduced tuition for adults. As reported in The Chronicle:
“When President Obama outlined steps in September to make his proposal for free community college a reality, his call for change reflected a movement that had already gained momentum. There are now more than 100 local community and state efforts that have vowed to pursue reduced-cost or tuition-free learning, many in conjunction with Mr. Obama’s America’s College Promise program and its associated awareness campaign, known as Heads Up America.
As the push for free community college continues to spread nationwide, college leaders in some states are trying to expand the reach of such programs to include the adult students that so many community colleges already serve. Many of the so-called Promise models focus on younger student populations, says James D. Schuelke, deputy director of the Heads Up America campaign.
In Oregon, for example, 68.2 percent of community-college enrollments involve students age 22 and older, but adults are not yet eligible for the Promise program there, which is aimed at high-school graduates. It’s important that policy makers “pay equal consideration to adults who are seeking opportunity,” says Ben Cannon, executive director of the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission, who hopes to expand Oregon’s efforts to include those learners.
Older learners can face challenges that some younger students don’t, such as balancing a job or family responsibilities, says Louis Soares, vice president for policy research and strategy at the American Council on Education, who specializes in community-college reform. The programs provide new opportunities where others may have failed, but meeting a variety of needs, Mr. Soares says, is critical for a program’s success.
Alabama is one state taking the plunge, with an effort to get more parents in the classroom. In a series of poverty-stricken counties known as the Black Belt region, where fewer than 20 percent of adults have bachelor’s degrees, local community colleges will open doors at no cost to some adults next summer. When the colleges announced the decision in partnership with the federal program known as Gear Up, in September, there was both enthusiasm and “disbelief that the state is willing to do this,” says Mark A. Heinrich, chancellor of the Alabama Community College System.
Alabama’s plan will be financed by the community-college system, on the heels of Gear Up’s pledging to help 10,000 sixth and seventh graders in low-income families prepare a pathway to college. Mr. Heinrich decided each parent of a Gear Up child should be able to attend free. The system’s colleges reach more than 25,000 working-age adults each year, but leave behind “15 times that number,” Mr. Heinrich says. “I don’t think we’re doing a good job of addressing those who are disadvantaged.”
It’s the responsibility of community colleges, he says, to help where traditional methods have failed.”
The idea of tuition-free community college is not a question of whether it will happen but when. Most states will initiate such a policy in the years to come.