President Biden proposed several “free college” measures during the campaign trail. “The issue is bipartisan in its appeal, economically effective, and supported by the leadership in today’s Congress and government – that is a pretty good triple play,” said Morley Winograd, President of The Campaign for Free College Tuition.

It is time to move forward on tuition-free college now. “I have a really hard time seeing any sort of four-year tuition-free college program passing at this point,” said Douglas Webber, associate professor of Economics at Temple University. Experts say that the first glimpse of a formal proposal would most likely be in Biden’s upcoming budget.

What Is A Tuition-Free College?

Tuition-free college means that, unlike other colleges, it does not charge the students for taking courses. It also doesn’t charge the students to enroll and to pay for books or other course materials. Free tuition means that the students have to pay nothing in fees and tuition—grants based on merit or need will cover these costs. About 27% of the students attending US colleges have tuition-free college currently.

Top 7 Pros And Cons Of Tuition-Free College Education

Pros Cons
Better access to the education A college education is an investment
More children from low-income families can go to college Children from wealthy families don’t need free tuition education
Better average education levels Students might not concentrate on one major
Free tuition education might lower the wage gap Students might not value the education anymore
Lower unemployment rates Declining quality of college education
Pressure on the students can decrease Several students may not be suitable for the college
Lower the debt levels of students Students should pay for their studies, not taxpayers

Top 3 Things To Look For In Biden’s Free College Proposals

Here are the top three things in Biden’s free college proposals that you need to look for:

1. A free tuition community college is most likely

Free college actually means free tuition. However, students would still have to pay for room and board and other costs of attendance like books, transportation, and supplies. According to the federal data, the average cost of room and board in a four-year school is $11,386 and in a two-year school is $7,636.

“We have seen how much free tuition community college has become more popular,” said Wesley Whistle, senior advisor for policy and strategy with Education Policy Program in New America. He further said, “It became a drum, and you hear it, and that helps it pick up over time.” President Biden’s free tuition college proposals include:

  • Free tuition public community colleges
  • Four years of free tuition for a student whose family income is under $125,000
  • Two years of free tuition for low-income and middle-income students who attend minority-serving institutions

According to experts, the primary blocker for a tuition-free college program is the cost, as any such program will likely be funded through a federal-state partnership. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the cost of funding tuition in public two-year schools is $8.8 billion compared to $72.5 billion in four-year public schools.

2. How a tuition-free college might work

There’s already a blueprint for free tuition programs. Fifteen states have a program in place currently, while some others have extensive scholarship programs. Most state programs like Tennessee Promise and Excelsior Scholarship in New York, which offer four years of free tuition in a public college, are last-dollar.

It means that the students have to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and accept all federal and state aid based on need before the tuition-free college benefit kicks in. Most experts say that a federally-enacted program will likely be first-dollar. The federally-enacted program will cover the tuition costs before another aid is applied.

Edward Conroy, assistant director of the institutional transformation for Hope Center for College, Community and Justice, said that it could increase the per-student impact of state funding and scholarships. He further said, “If we get a federal program that says we are going to make tuition-free and you can still get any state or federal grants on top of that, it would be a robust program.” In this case, additional aid can go toward paying for the other expenses.

3. Pell Grant expansion might be easier

Pell Grant is another path towards a tuition-free college. The Pell Grant program provides free aid to students who have demonstrated need, and for 2021-22, it’s up to $6,495. Although it was supposed to cover most college expenses, it has not kept up. According to the latest federal data, the average fees and tuition are $9,212 at four-year public schools.

Most experts say that doubling the maximum Pell Grant will create free tuition, and in some cases, it covers additional costs. Biden has called for it 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 Grant will be easier to pass than a tuition-free college because the grant program already exists.

Free college proposals are also blasted for not being generous enough and being too generous to the students with no demonstrated need. Expanding the existing Pell Grant program can provide free tuition, but it lacks the appeal of a free program. “From a messaging perspective, saying that the Pell (grant amount) is going up by, say, $2,000 may not have the same impact on the students as ‘Your tuition is covered,'” said Kelchen.

The Bottomline: How can students cut their costs?

Tuition-free college policy can take a long time to get through Congress – if it can at all. So, parents and students might not see this benefit for several months or years. However, there are some existing strategies to get a degree at a lower cost like:

  • Search if your state already has a free tuition program.
  • Submit the FAFSA form and accept all need-based state and federal aid.
  • Consider attending a public college unless the private school offers you more aid.
  • Attend a two-year school, then make a plan to transfer the credits and complete a four-year degree.
  • Request a professional judgement to appeal the aid award if your family’s finances have changed.
  • Compare the graduation rates, college expenses, and standard student loan payments using the US Department of Education’s College Scorecard.

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