The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

March 13, 2014

States explore free community college

(Continued)

However, in 2007 a similar proposal by former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen failed in the Tennessee legislature. Moreover, the efforts in both Oregon and Tennessee come after a decade during which both states cut funding for higher education, contributing to tuition hikes.

A study last year by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that states spent 28 percent less per student on higher education in fiscal year 2013 than they did in 2008, and that every state but North Dakota and Wyoming is investing less money in higher education now than before the recession. Oregon cut its higher education funding during that period by 43.6 percent, and tuition rose at both two-year and four-year public colleges in the state. Similarly, Tennessee reduced higher education spending by 30.1 percent, and tuition at its schools also went up.

In Mississippi, a bill for free tuition at community colleges died in committee last week because of funding concerns, but advocates hope the bill can be revived and passed next year.

Six of the state’s 15 community colleges already offer some form of tuition guarantee, meaning that after students have applied for financial aid from federal, state and other sources, county or private funding covers the remainder of the tuition cost, according to Kell Smith, a spokesman for the Mississippi Community College Board.

In Massachusetts, Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick in 2007 also proposed making community college free, although the measure failed.

California suspended tuition at its public colleges in 1960 with its Master Plan for Higher Education. But under fiscal pressures, the community colleges have charged enrollment fees since 1984-85. Tuition and fees at California’s public colleges still remain the lowest in the country.

And in New York City, the City University of New York offered free tuition from 1970 to 1976, when the policy ended under the strain of the city’s fiscal crisis. Even so, between federal and state tuition assistance, nearly half of CUNY’s undergraduate students pay no tuition.

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