Free College?

There is a lot being written in the press about “Free College” for students. What does it mean? What programs are possibly going to be implemented? Which schools are on board with this effort? We will have a great focused article on this subject in the Spring 2022 issue of LINK for Counselors so stay tuned. The writer of the article, Jim Paterson, a former Counselor, included several sources in the piece. After press time for the article, he received some great information from Martha Kanter, the Head of College Promise. We wanted to make sure we shared that with you too:

(Jim Paterson) First, I know this is probably a very fluid situation, but can you provide your thoughts about what will happen at the national level with support for 2-years of college for free?

(Martha Kanter) Right now, while “free community college” was stalled like so many other critical priorities due to Congressional gridlock, we have overwhelming public support for this to happen from our nation’s students, families, and communities. If enacted, it will be a major step forward to keep college affordable and attainable for all Americans. When we look at the local and state bipartisan support for College Promise, especially over the past decade, these leaders are paving the way forward to fund the first two or more years of college through a Federal-State Partnership. The value proposition has been confirmed many times over in the Promise research and public policy reports that investing in free community college will accrue significant economic, social, and civic benefits for our nation. We will continue our advocacy and look forward to other ways we can realize the Promise at the federal level in partnership with the states. This is a setback but we’re still on the road!

(JP) And, more importantly, since the audience here is admissions officials, college consultants and high school counselors and prospective students and their families, what advice would she have for them about how to find the best opportunity for free college? Are there pitfalls to avoid or problems with any of the programs? If she was speaking to this audience, what two or three tips would she provide — and it can be brief.

(MK) Start by reviewing the 2021 College Promise Catalog of Local and State Programs. It includes comprehensive information about Promise program locations, eligibility requirements, the college(s) committed to the Promise, wrap-around support services provided, whether a student may attend college full or part-time, website, and contact information. The roadblock that students most often encounter is meeting specific Promise program eligibility requirements. Students may or may not be eligible given the criteria individual Promise programs have established – some programs are more targeted or restricted while other programs are more universal and inclusive. 

Some tips for college consultants, high school counselors, and prospective students and their families:

  1. Take time to learn about the benefits, locations, and eligibility requirements of Promise programs that you are interested in, especially for regions and institutions where the majority of your students are likely to enroll.
  2. Consider whether the program is offered at both the local and state level (often there are more resources provided if this is the case).
  3. Reach out to visit the actual program, either virtually or in person, to learn as much as you can about how the program is delivered to prospective students

(JP) Are there many or any free college programs kids should be aware of that aren’t designated as College Promise programs?

(MK) Students might also look at opportunities sponsored by companies (e.g., Amazon, Walmart, Starbucks, etc.) that offer to pay for college tuition and fees while students are in college since so many of our nation’s students are learning and working at the same time.