For many of us living in the United States, the ability to attend college for free might have seemed like an impossible dream until the 2016 presidential election, when Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton made it a part of their platforms. Although one common criticism (especially of Sanders) was that Democrats proposed free higher education without a concrete plan detailing how to make it happen, it looks like free college tuition could actually become a reality — at least, for people living in certain states. But there's a lot that would need to happen first in order for this to happen, so let's unpack it.
Although with Donald Trump as president, free college education nationwide is probably not going to happen, if you're currently living in New York, Kentucky, Rhode Island, and a few other states, you may soon be in luck. Last year, Kentucky lawmakers proposed the Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship Program to provide students pursuing a two-year degree in certain fields — so-called "high-demand workforce sectors predetermined by the state — with free tuition. For the first round of scholarships, those sectors will be health care, transportation/logistics, advanced manufacturing, business services/IT, and construction. The program will award eligible students beginning in the 2017-2018 school year, so if you live in Kentucky and are pursuing one of the aforementioned career paths, it's definitely worth looking into. I mean, free money.
In Rhode Island, Governor Gina Raimondo wants to have the state provide two years of tuition at public college for in-state residents for free — which would make Rhode Island the first state to do this. The $30 million program, which was submitted by Raimondo on January 19th, would come out of Rhode Island's $9 billion budget, but it still needs to be approved by the state legislature before it can be implemented. Still, not bad.
For New Yorkers seeking free college tuition, it's unfortunately a little more complicated. This month Governor Cuomo proposed a plan to offer free in-state public education to students in middle-class families: students coming from families earning less than $100,000 per year would be eligible for free tuition at a public two- or four-year college; in the second year of the program, the income qualification would rise to students in households bringing in less than $110,000 per year; and it would cap out in 2019 at $125,000. Pretty good deal, right?
In a perfect world, yes. But in reality, it's not going to be that easy. For one, Cuomo's proposed program wouldn't cover room and board, which can get very pricey, especially for students who live on campus. Furthermore, the program — which would cost an estimated $163 million per year — is far from unanimously supported by New York State legislators. Critics of the program are against the idea of taxpayers footing the bill for free tuition, and Yahoo Finance reports the proposal is facing an "uphill battle."
And if you don't live in New York, Rhode Island, or Kentucky, don't despair. There are currently 12 states in various states of free college tuition movements — Yahoo Finance has a handy infographic courtesy of Graphiq that I recommend checking out.
As for what you can do to help your state offer free college tuition, you probably guessed it, but you can try contacting your state legislature — not your U.S. senators or House representatives, but your officials at the state level. Hopefully, you're already a seasoned professional at calling your representatives, but if not, this is as good a time as any to start.