According to researchers, College Promise programs that offer free higher education may encounter some issues down the road.
In the past several years, College Promise programs have been growing and getting more attention. These programs promise to provide free college to qualifying students.
Currently, 16 states in the U.S. actively offer some type of free college plan to residents, and other state promise plans are in the works. These plans are often modeled off of Tennessee’s free college scholarship program, Tennessee Promise. These state-funded scholarship programs typically cover tuition and fees for two years of college or the equivalent of an associate’s degree.
The goal of these programs is to offer more widespread access to students who might not be eligible for scholarships. However, researchers at the Century Foundation (TCF) are anticipating that these programs may encounter problems down the road.
For instance, researchers noted that while community college students tend to be lower-income, these programs have requirements that are hard for many of these students to meet.
College Promise plans often require students to work full-time or to graduate within a certain period of time. Many programs also have strict academic standards that must be met, and often students have to enroll in school full-time to qualify, The Nation reported.
Although these programs pay for tuition fees, students might have to find a way to pay for their own books and living expenses. And eleven of these programs are only being offered to recent high school graduates. Local residency requirements could be a barrier to students who are either homeless or have been in the foster care system, according to The Nation.
These types of programs often lead students to pursue lower-level degrees, simply because they are faster to obtain. Students who do manage to complete one of these programs may find they have poor job prospects after graduation.
It is also unclear how financially sustainable these programs are long-term. Because many College Promise programs are funded on a yearly basis, it’s impossible for students to know if their program will continue to receive funding until they finish their degree.
Simple changes to these programs could improve their accessibility and long-term viability, according to TCF. By eliminating merit-based requirements, states would give access to more low-income students.
And states could provide “first-dollar” funding, which means the funds are distributed to students first before they receive any federal grants or private funds. The report’s author, Jennifer Mishory, said if states expect high enrollment in these programs, “…they should be investing more to ensure there is capacity,” according to The Nation.
Yet over the past 10 years, state spending on students has gone down 16 percent. Meanwhile, college expenses and student loan debt continue to increase. Regardless of how these states plan to improve the programs, the country as a whole still faces a higher education crisis.