Opinion: Free College Is a Great Idea. But Low-Income, First-Generation Students Need Much More Than Financial Support to Succeed

"Across the country, local, state, and federal leaders have debated whether college should be free. Over the course of these discussions, a key for education and political leaders has been to define the intent of a free college policy. Goals have reflected varying efforts to address affordability, increase access, and support workforce development. And, as states like Tennessee, New York, and Oregon have begun implementing free college programs, these policy debates have moved beyond mere hypotheticals," Brian Sponsler and Dave Jarret write in an opinion article for The 74.

"Accordingly, policy and practice professionals need to shift our focus beyond whether free college programs should exist to how we can ensure that students enrolled in college through these programs have the greatest opportunity for success.

To really help students, policy needs to go beyond financial support. Free college alone does not address major hurdles students face in attaining a credential, particularly for low-income, first-generation students and others who lack the family and social safety nets their wealthier peers may enjoy. For example, a free college program that provides only financial support cannot help a student balance academics with work and childcare responsibilities.

With states across the country launching or expanding free college programs, it is increasingly vital that they have a model for supporting the success of their students — one that is proven and can be applied at scale and addresses both policy and process.

A recent report from The Century Foundation shows that of the 16 states with free college programs, only five provide student supports such as first-year experience programs, college success programs, or mentoring. From a policy perspective, academic and financial challenges are often viewed as the primary reasons students fail to persist to graduation; this makes sense, given the corresponding policy levers traditionally available to decisionmakers."

NASFAA's "Headlines" section highlights media coverage of financial aid to help members stay up to date with the latest news. Inclusion in Today's News does not imply endorsement of the material or guarantee the accuracy of information presented.


Publication Date: 4/26/2018

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