State Update

States Debate Offering Free Tuition

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A few states have been considering offering free tuition at community colleges, as the cost of higher education continues to rise across the country. Below are examples of what some states are doing to tackle the high cost of higher education.

Mississippi

H.B. 424, called the “2014 Mississippi Promise Community College Tuition Gap Pilot Program,” passed the House but failed to pass out of a Senate committee. The bill would have made tuition free at all 15 Mississippi community colleges for students who graduated from high school within 12 months of enrolling in college. According to the bill text, Mississippi would pick up the tuition costs only after all other federal, state, institutional and private aid resources had been exhausted.

Tennessee

During his State of the State address before the Tennessee General Assembly, Gov. Bill Haslam (R-TN) introduced the “Tennessee Promise.” The proposal commits to providing on a continuing basis two years of community college or a college of applied technology (TCAT) free of tuition and fees to graduating high school seniors. 

“Through the Tennessee Promise, we are fighting the rising cost of higher education, and we are raising our expectations as a state,” Gov. Haslam said during his State of the State address. “We are committed to making a clear statement to families that education beyond high school is a priority in the state of Tennessee.”

It is estimated that the cost of the program will be $34 million annually. In order to make the Tennessee Promise sustainable, the governor hopes to transfer approximately $300 million in excess lottery reserve funds and join it with a $47 million endowment created by the General Assembly to fund the program in perpetuity.

H.B. 2491 and S.B. 2471 were filed on behalf of the governor and would enact the Tennessee Promise Scholarship (TPS) Act of 2014. The TPS is for Tennessee residents who are seeking an associate degree, certificate or diploma from an eligible postsecondary program. To be eligible for the TPS, a student must be admitted and enrolled as a full-time student for the fall term following graduation or obtaining a GED. The TPS amount shall be the cost of tuition and mandatory fees at the eligible postsecondary institution attended, once all other gift aid is subtracted from the total cost. The amount of a TPS for students who seek a two-year degree at an eligible four-year public or private postsecondary institution shall be the average cost of tuition and mandatory fees at a public two-year postsecondary institution.

Gov. Haslam is actively advocating for the legislation as a way to fuel his "Drive to 55,” a plan to bring the percentage of Tennesseans with college degrees or certifications to 55% by the year 2025; currently only 32% of Tennesseans have college degrees or certifications. Both H.B. 2491 and S.B. 2471 are pending in committee.

Oregon

On March 11, Gov. John Kitzhaber (D-OR) signed S.B. 1524. The new law directs the Higher Education Coordinating Commission to examine the viability of allowing students who graduated from high school in the state, or completed grade 12, to attend community college for a specified period without paying tuition and fees.