For so many young adults, pursuing higher education is something they’ve worked towards their whole lives. They’ve earned the grades, they’ve explored the possibilities, and they’ve dreamed big.
There’s just one problem—they can’t afford it. And the number of students burdened by mountains of student loan debt gets larger every year.
The distance between young people’s dreams and the reality of college tuition is something Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders was able to build a presidential campaign on. As he explained early in his 2016 campaign, “Every person in this country who has the desire and ability should be able to get all the education they need regardless of the income of their family. This is not a radical idea. In Germany, Scandinavia and many other countries, higher education is either free or very inexpensive. We must do the same.”
He didn’t secure the Presidential ticket, but that hasn’t stopped him (and many others) from fighting for affordable higher education around the country. Here are five places where it’s becoming easier to turn the dream of higher education into a reality.
1. New York State
In April, the state passed a budget package that will provide full scholarships to students enrolled in 2- or 4-year programs at any State or City University of New York school (SUNY/CUNY). There are some caveats, of course: students must be full-time, and their parents need to have a combined income of less than $100,000—at least for the first year. By the third year of the program, this would increase to $125,000. This doesn’t cover the cost of food, housing, and books, which can be expensive as well.
Advocates agree that this is a huge step forward for affordable higher ed, with more than 80% of New York families able to benefit from it. On the other hand, critics say this barely scratches the surface of the affordability problem.
2. San Francisco
News of San Francisco’s decision to make all community colleges tuition free first hit the Internet in February. Any student who has lived in the city for at least a year can attend community college, tuition free, and also receive money for books and supplies. Full- and part-time students are eligible, and will receive these benefits regardless of income.
Enrollment in the city’s community colleges is expected to increase by 20% over the next couple of years, and the estimated $5.4 million in costs will be covered by a tax bill that passed last November: Proposition W, which imposes a tax on properties that sell for more than $5 million.
The House of Representatives in Tennessee recently passed a bill that would allow all adult students attend community college tuition free. It goes to the Senate next, but passed the house 87-6.
But, free college isn’t a new thing in Tennessee: a few years ago, it became the first state to offer tuition-free community college to new high school graduates. The latest legislation furthers this initiative, spearheaded by Governor Bill Haslam who hopes that at least 55% of Tennesseans will have a college degree or certificate in the next 10 years. It’s expected to cost $11 million a year, and will be covered by proceeds from the state Lottery.
4. Rhode Island
Governor Gina Raimondo recently proposed legislation that would make public college free for Rhode Island residents for two years of study. There are no income limits, and it would cover tuition and fees for all recent high school graduates.
The two year time limit is flexible: for community college students, it would cover the first two years. For students enrolled in a four-year degree, it would cover the last two years. Reports indicate that it should benefit up to 7,000 students and will cost about $30 million a year.
In addition to these state- and city-level initiatives, there’s a national push for affordable college as well: Bernie Sanders has forged ahead with his plan to reduce the cost of education for American students. Early in April, he introduced the College for All Act, alongside Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.). The bill itself outlines the elimination of tuition and fees at four-year public colleges and universities for families making less than $125,000 annually. It could help up to 80% of the population pursue higher education.
On his website, Sanders explains, “In a highly competitive global economy, we need the best-educated workforce in the world. It is insane and counter-productive to the best interests of our country and our future, that hundreds of thousands of bright young people cannot afford to go to college, and that millions of others leave school with a mountain of debt that burdens them for decades. That shortsighted path to the future must end.”