Free college tuition: Should it spread to other states?

Becky Han, Staff Assistant

As we’re nearing the end of May, it is a relief to many high school seniors that commitment day has finally passed and the entire college admissions and acceptance process has come to a close.  While these long, brutal months of what some deem to be “pure anxiety” is over, the extreme pressure associated with getting into college isn’t the only daunting aspect of this period. In addition to this huge worry, the prospect of determining just how they as students will, or will not, be able to pay their college tuition further adds onto this boatload of stress.  

Thus, programs that allow for free college tuition, or even just aid in minimizing the ever-increasing high costs, must be enacted across the nation.  One step at a time, states should work to adopt refined policies addressing this issue.

According to a national survey conducted as a part of the National Student Financial Wellness Study, seven out of ten college students feel stressed about their personal finances, and nearly 60 percent said they worry about having enough money to pay for school.  These staggering statistics highlight just how much paying for college places a burden on students across the country.

Recently, New York became the first state to implement a free college tuition program in which SUNY and CUNY students whose families make up to $125,000 per year can apply for an Excelsior Scholarship.  Beginning this fall to be phased in over three years, the new program allows more than 940,000 middle-class families and individuals to qualify for the scholarship with the slogan that it is “leading the way to college affordability.”  

“I think the Excelsior Scholarship gives less privileged kids the chance to get a proper education, which is very costly these days,” said sophomore Audri Wong.

Being the nation’s first accessible college program, there are bound to be several drawbacks as it is a fairly unprecedented step forward.  These downsides include factors such as that the affected students will still be responsible for other fees, like room and board, and that they are required to live and work in New York after graduating for the same amount of time they received the award.  Even though some New Yorkers are complaining about this aspect, it is quite understandable as the state should be getting some sort of benefit from the program. The program itself is very promising as its intention is to provide a substantial amount of individuals with a much-needed economic boost.  

Similarly, Tennessee has been moving towards improvement in a similar nature.  The program began in 2015 by offering free tuition to students who had graduated high school the previous spring.  It has just recently been expanded as it plans on allowing all students in Tennessee, including adults, to be eligible for free tuition at its technical schools and community colleges starting in 2018.  Interested students must meet certain criteria requirements, such as being a state resident for a minimum of a year before applying and completing eight hours of community service each semester.

“Although I don’t think universal free college is viable, I do think schools should admit students who are the most qualified for admission to their school, and provide economic support to those financially struggling.  A hardworking student’s financial standing shouldn’t limit their educational opportunities,” said sophomore Emily Doherty.

While these changes require a tremendous amount of money, they are absolutely necessary to improve the lives of many middle to lower-class families who do not have the benefits that others have due to their socio-economic conditions.  

These reforms altogether appear to go into the direction of enacting far-reaching and effective changes in order to better these conditions for those who are struggling.  As reducing the economic strain numerous students have to go through is absolutely essential, the state-mandated laws seem to be doing much to provide a degree of stability by allowing these individuals to fulfill their academic dreams with a lighter weight on their shoulders.  Therefore, there must be more changes made in the future towards fixing this issue that quite unfairly impacts so many.