Tulsa offers debt-free college

Tulsa Community College is free for local high school graduates with a C average or better. Tulsa Achieves pays for up to 63 credits or three years of college. Public, private and home-schooled students in Tulsa County are eligible.

Seven years ago Tom McKeon, president of the community college, persuaded local business and political leaders to invest in educating local graduates, reports NPR. “I think we’re seeing kids that never, ever dreamed that college was a possibility for them because parents didn’t think it was within their realm,” McKeon says.

Some 10,000 students have received gap-closing aid, mostly funded by local property taxes. The average cost is $3,400 per student per year.

When asked if taxpayers are getting their money’s worth, McKeon throws out these numbers: eight out of ten students who enter the program… finish it.

One key to that retention rate is the program’s structure. Students get lots of encouragement and help — tutorials on note-taking, test preparation, research and time management skills. They’re even required to take a course called “Strategies for Academic Success.”

. . . In the beginning, about 40 percent of students who went through the program transferred to four-year institutions. Today, it’s less than 10 percent. There are a few reasons for the drop. One positive: with the economy picking up, more students are finding good jobs after they get their associate’s degree. The bad news: for many, transferring to a four-year school is still too expensive.

Next year, Tennessee will offer tuition-free community college to high school graduates, funded with lottery revenues. Oregon is considering a similar plan.

$10K degree isn’t impossible after all

When Gov. Rick Perry challenged Texas’s public universities to craft four-year degrees costing no more than $10,000, many said it was impossible, recalls Thomas K. Lindsay, director of the Center for Higher Education at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Three years later, 12 Texas universities have announced $10,000 bachelor’s degrees and the idea has spread to Florida, Oklahoma and Oregon.

The rapid expansion of $10,000 degree offerings has not satisfied the “It’s impossible” critics. They note that the fledgling programs are limited to a few subject areas, mostly the applied sciences, and argue that the same model cannot work in other fields. Moreover, they point out, a number of the new offerings charge students $10,000 but do not actually reduce their schools’ cost of instruction and materials.

That’s a valid critique, writes Lindsay. The current $10,000 degree programs reduced the price charged to the student but ignored Perry’s suggestion to cut costs by using online learning and competency-based exams.

However, that’s changing.

Three higher-education partners — Texas A&M University-Commerce, South Texas College, and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) — just launched the “Affordable Baccalaureate Program,” the state’s first public university bachelor’s degree combining online learning and competency-based standards. Developed by community-college and university faculty . . . a new degree in organizational leadership can cost as little as $750 per term and allows students to receive credit for as many competencies and courses as they can master each term.

According to THECB’s website, students arriving “with no prior college credits should be able to complete the degree program in three years at a total cost of $13,000 to $15,000.” Students who enter having already satisfied their general-education requirements can complete the degree in two years, while those entering with “90 credit hours and no credential” can complete the degree “in one year for $4,500 to $6,000.”

Nationwide, college tuition and fees have risen 440 percent over the past 25 years, roughly four times the rate of inflation and nearly twice the rate of health-care cost growth, writes Lindsay. Total student-loan debt has risen to $1.2 trillion. Increasing federal subsidies so students can borrow more to pay higher tuition is fiscally unsustainable. So is increasing state subsidies for higher education.

Oregon pilot aids first-generation students

To help low-income, first-generation students complete community college, an Oregon pilot will provide scholarships, advising and other support, reports the Oregonian.  “The program will be modeled on the private- and City of Portland-funded Future Connect program at Portland Community College.”

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber also signed a bill creating a commission to study offering free tuition at community colleges. He called for a day when “every student in our state believes in their heart that a post-secondary education is within their reach.”

Oregon wants 80 percent of young adults to earn a college degree or an industry-recognized certificate by 2025. Currently, about 48 percent of working-age Oregonians have a postsecondary credential.

States consider $0 community college tuition

Worried about a shortage of skilled workers, some states are considering free community college tuition, reports NPR.

In Tennessee, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam wants to use lottery money to create a free community college program for high school graduates. The state wants 55 percent of Tennesseans to have a college degree by 2025, up from 32 percent now.

In Oregon, a state commission will look at whether free tuition is feasible.

However, Oregon and Tennessee legislators aren’t sure that middle-class students should pay nothing. A Mississippi bill passed the state House, but then failed in the Senate.

“I think everybody agrees that with a high school education by itself, there is no path to the middle class,” said State Sen. Mark Hass, who is leading the no-tuition effort in Oregon. “There is only one path, and it leads to poverty. And poverty is very expensive.”

Hass said free community college and increasing the number of students who earn college credit while in high school are keys to addressing a “crisis” in education debt. Taxpayers will ultimately benefit, he said, because it’s cheaper to send someone to community college than to have him or her in the social safety net.

Nationwide, the average annual cost of community college tuition is about $3,300, not counting books and fees. 

California’s community colleges were free until the mid-1980s. (Even now, students don’t pay “tuition.” They pay “fees.”)

“What is exciting to us about the idea is that it signals that the state understands there needs to be significant reinvestment in community colleges in some way, shape or form,” said Mary Spilde, the president of Lane Community College in Eugene, Ore., where in-state students pay $93 per credit hour. Back in 1969-70, baby boomers paid $6 per credit hour — about $37 in today’s money, adjusted for inflation.

Tennessee and Oregon may adopt the “last-dollar in” model: The state would fund tuition not covered by other forms of aid, such as Pell Grants. That means state money would pay primarily for middle-class families, said Kay McClenney, director of the Center for Community College Student Engagement at the University of Texas. “And is that your best use of dollars within the public interest?”

Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education, said students are more likely to be successful if they have “skin in the game” and pay something toward their education.

States eye free community college tuition

Community college tuition could be free to high school graduates in Tennessee, Mississippi and Oregon.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam proposed making two years of a community or technical college education free in his State of the State address. “Net cost to the state, zero. Net impact on our future, priceless.”

“We just needed to change the culture of expectations in our state,” the governor told the New York Times. “College is not for everybody, but it has to be for a lot more people than it’s been in the past if we’re going to have a competitive work force.”

Community college costs only $3,800 a year in Tennessee, just above the national average. With help from Pell Grants, most students pay little or nothing in tuition and fees. However eliminating tuition would enable lower-income students to use their Pell aid to pay for books, supplies, transportation and living expenses.

The “Tennessee Promise” will have a psychological impact, Haslam predicted. Many people don’t realize community and technical colleges are affordable. “If we can go to people and say, ‘This is totally free,’ that gets their attention.”

The plan would cover Tennessee’s 13 community colleges, which grant academic degrees, and 27 technical colleges, which provide job training. The technical system is nationally known for high success rates.

The net cost to the state isn’t really zero, but Haslam estimated diverting lottery revenue would cover the $34 million a year.

Mr. Haslam also called for Tennessee’s public colleges to make a new effort to recruit the state’s nearly one million adults who have some college credits but ended their educations without earning degrees or professional certificates. And he proposed expanding a program that gives particular help to struggling high school students so they can go to college without needing remedial classes that do not earn college credit; studies have shown that students who take remedial courses are far less likely to graduate.

High school graduates in Mississippi could attend community college for free for two years under a bill being considered in the Legislature, reports the Clarion-Ledger. Scholarships would be available to students younger than 21 who enroll full-time and maintain a 2.5 grade point average.

The idea started at Meridian Community College, which began offering what it calls a “tuition guarantee” in fall 1996, using privately donated money.

Oregon legislators also may study whether it’s feasible to let high school graduates attend community college for free. “If we get this right, I think we can unleash a tremendous amount of motivation within these young people, giving them the motivation to stay in school, to get a certificate, to achieve that additional learning that can make a difference in terms of their economic success,” Gov. John Kitzhaber told the Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee.

 whether free community colleges is feasible.

Oregon seeks ways to lower college costs

Hoping to boost the number of college graduates, Oregon is trying to make college affordable, writes Sophie Quinton in The Atlantic.

Currently, about a third of students in the Beaver State don’t graduate from high school on time—or at all—and just 61 percent of graduates immediately head to college.

. . . State and local funding for higher education dropped by 32 percent between 2007 and 2012 even as enrollment jumped by 36.2 percent, according to the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association. Unsurprisingly, Oregon students are paying 18 percent more in tuition and fees than the national average, and students’ debt loads are soaring.

One proposal, “Pay It Forward,” would eliminate tuition at public two- and four-year colleges — if students commit to pay a fixed percentage of their post-graduation salaries to their college or to the state. A state commission is researching the idea.

Getting a statewide program off the ground could cost more than $9 billion over 24 years, until enough graduates are paying into the system to make it self-sustaining, The Wall Street Journal reports. Oregon will have to figure out how to track graduates who move out of state, what to do about students who enroll in college for a few years but never graduate, and how to maintain the balance of high and low earners necessary to keep institutions fully funded.

“Pay It Forward” wouldn’t necessarily eliminate the need for financial aid: Living expenses and other costs wouldn’t be covered by the program. And for students who enter low-paying fields after graduation, income-based repayment for federal student loans may actually be a better deal, according to The Washington Post.

Two years of community college would be free to all qualified Oregonians under a proposal by State Sen. Mark Hass.  “Two years of community-college credit is a much better value than a lifetime on food stamps,” the Democratic lawmaker says.

Oregon legislators also are considering requiring  all high school students to earn “dual enrollment” college credits, but the $1 billion cost is a barrier.

Oregon eyes tuition-free community college

Community college would be tuition-free for two years for most Oregon high school graduates, under a proposal by Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, reports the Statesman-Journal.

“There are thousands of kids who come out of our schools that don’t go on to higher education, and that’s just not a viable path into the middle class,” said Hass, who is the chairman of the Senate Education & Workforce Development Committee.

Preliminary estimates show that funding tuition could cost about $250 million if 31,962 high school graduates attended an Oregon community college full time for two years. Average cost for a credit at a state community college is an estimated $85.94.

High school graduates would need a 2.0 grade point average to qualify.

It’s not clear how Oregon would fund the idea, but Hass says the state will save money in the long run if more young people are educated.

Elizabeth Cox Brand, the director of communications and research at the state department of Community Colleges & Workforce Development, called the state’s community colleges the “heart and soul” of Oregon’s “40-40-20” goal.

The goal is that 40 percent of adults will earn a bachelor’s degree or higher, 40 percent earn an associate’s degree or post-secondary credential and the remaining 20 percent earn a high school diploma or equivalent. By 2025, that would mean all Oregonians would earn at least a high school diploma.

Gov. John Kitzhaber’s education policy advisor, Ben Cannon, said the governor supports the idea of funding community college tuition for high school graduates. “What’s very clear is that the combination of rising tuition, fees, and cost of living has meant that too few Oregon school students see post-secondary education as a viable option,” he said.

College is free for ’5th-year’ high schoolers

Going a step behind dual enrollment, high schools and community colleges are combining a “fifth year” of high school with the first year of college, reports Community College Times.

In Oregon, nearly 200 high school students will spend a fifth year earning an advanced high school diploma while attending and earning credits at Klamath Community College (KCC). Since these students are still considered to be enrolled in high school, their tuition, fees and textbooks for their first year at KCC are covered by the state’s funding to K-12 school districts.

The students will attend KCC as a cohort and take a college success course together. If they complete the year, they’ll earn an advanced high school diploma and as many as 39 college credits — for free. They’ll be able to continue at KCC,  transfer to another college or enter the workforce.

Colorado’s Ascent program lets high school students delay graduation for a year while they attend a community college; the cost is covered by the state’s K-12 funding.

Community College of Aurora (CCA) has close to 100 Ascent students and 3,000 dual enrollment students, said Elena Sandoval-Lucero, dean of student success. To qualify for Ascent, students must complete at least 12 dual-enrollment credits before 12th grade and be ready to start in college-level courses. Some will be able to earn an associate degree in their “fifth year,” said Sandoval-Lucero.

High school educators hope fifth-year programs will encourage low-income students to start college at no cost and keep on going.

Oregon plan is gamble for students, taxpayers

Under Oregon’s Pay It Forward, Pay It Back plan, students would pay no tuition at state universities – if they agree to pay 3 percent of their earnings for 24 years. Community college students would pay 1.5 percent. The bill tells a state commission to study how to make the idea work. A pilot plan is possible in 2015.

Be wary of no-money-down offers, warns Inside Higher Ed.

It won’t work, argues Sara Goldrick-Rab on Education Optimists. Tuition at the University of Oregon is $9,830 a year, but students would have to pay another $14,000 for room, board, books and supplies. So even those who postpone tuition will have to borrow to pay college costs. Lower-income students still face “sticker shock” that may dissuade them from enrolling.

While Pay It Forward is supposed to be self-sustaining — eventually — the estimates are off, writes Goldrick-Rab. Students will earn less than projected and will resist a 24-year “mortage” on their education. Collecting will require using the IRS.

Students who plan careers in medicine, law, business and engineering will do much better paying the tuition up front, leaving Pay It Forward to collect only from low-paid graduates and dropouts.

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It’s a terrible idea, writes Jordan Weissmann in The Atlantic. Advocates say Oregon will need to spend $9 billion over the next 24 years to cover the costs, but that assumes students in high-earning majors won’t opt out. If they know math, they will. Furthermore, “only half of Oregon public college students finish a B.A. within six years.” Dropouts are expected to pay too for whatever years of free tuition they received, but they earn far less and will pay less. “The whole idea could turn into a financial albatross for taxpayers” or a nightmare for former students.

Early college boosts confidence in Oregon

Only 61 percent of Oregon high school graduates in the class of 2011 were enrolled in college by fall, 2012, according to the National Student Clearinghouse. That’s below the national average of 68 percent and far below Oregon’s goal, which calls for 40 percent of young people to earn a bachelor’s degree and 40 percent to earn an associate degree.

In some districts and high schools, students are doing much better than expected, reports the Oregonian.

For example, with 73 percent of students from low-income families, the David Douglas school district in east Portland sends 62 percent of graduates to college, far more than the average for districts with similar demographics. Counselors explain that college is almost always necessary to qualify for a career, said head counselor Miki Johnson.

Two thirds of David Douglas students take Mount Hood Community College courses, taught by high school teachers who hold Mount Hood credentials. The average graduate has earned 12 college credits. Most dual enrollment students go on to college, said Tifini Roberts, who coordinates the program. “Being exposed to college, taking a college class and passing it, is a huge confidence booster.”

Jefferson High, a small school with primarily low-income, black students, is across the street from Portland Community College. The college hired a counselor to help Jefferson students get into the right college classes and reach their goals. The high school sends 79 percent of its students to college.