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In addition to publications co-authored with Elaine Leigh (see embedded links), this blog also draws on a forthcoming paper with Edward Smith, Improving Research-Based Knowledge of College Promise Programs, to be published by the American Educational Research Association.
With higher education comes numerous benefits. Individuals with a college education average higher earnings, higher rates of employment, lower rates of unemployment, longer lives, and better health. The benefits of higher education are realized not just by individual participants -- society also benefits. With higher rates of college completion come a higher tax base, less reliance on social welfare programs, lower rates of crime, and greater civic engagement.
To ensure a growing and thriving middle class, we must not only raise the educational attainment of the nation's population. We must also reduce the differences in attainment that persist across groups. College enrollment and completion rates continue to be lower for people from lower-income families, people who are first in their families to attend college, and people from racial/ethnic minoritized groups. A primary reason for these persisting differences is that the resources that are available to promote college opportunity and success vary dramatically based on the places that people live and the schools they attend.
One potentially promising innovative approach for increasing college attainment for people in particular places is "free college." Also known as free tuition and college promise programs, free college programs have been emerging across the United States, especially over the past few years. At least ten candidates for governor in 2018 had "free college" as part of their campaign platforms.
Free college programs take many forms, and include programs that are being created by states (e.g., Tennessee Promise), communities (e.g., Kalamazoo Promise), and individual community colleges (e.g., Ventura Promise). Some programs offer a financial award only to students with financial need or who meet academic requirements, while others offer an award to all who live in a designated community or graduate from specified high schools.
Are free college programs a promising approach to improving higher education opportunity and outcomes? Fully addressing this question will require more time, as many programs are just beginning. But as programs are being considered and implemented now is the time to consider the ideal ways to design and implement a program so as to maximize the positive impacts and minimize the potential unintended consequences.
Particularly important is considering such questions as:
The answers to these questions will determine who benefits from a free college program -- and who does not and whether free college is a promising approach to ensuring that all have the opportunity to participate in and benefit from higher education.
The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of Vice President Biden, the Biden Institute or the University of Delaware.
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