In November 2005, at the Kalamazoo Central High School in Michigan, an unexpected news made many students cry. The tears show the joy of hard to describe, according to The Atlantic.

They have good reason to be happy. The vice principal of the Kalamazoo Promise is sponsored by the benefactors, all of whom are from Kalamazoo High School to the end of high school. The program will not end but be maintained for many years to come, applicable to anyone enrolled in any public university in Michigan.

Since 2006, the number of students enrolled in the district has increased dramatically, so is the number of teachers. For the first time since the 1970s, many new school buildings were built.

The good news is that not only does Kalamazoo School change positively, but it also brings a whole new dimension to the city. Entrepreneurs come to the area more and more, and those who aspire for their children receive free education. Of course, these families will still have to pay for accommodation and other college fees, but tuition waivers will undoubtedly diminish some of their fears and reduce the likelihood that children will have to bear the burden of lifelong students. .

Wave free tuition

That is the beginning of a wave. As the cost of university education goes down, students increasingly have to borrow more money to earn a degree, some of whom have taken steps to improve the situation. There are more than 350 "promise programs", programs that promise free college tuition, scattered across the country after Kalamazoo opens. Some are funded by the government, some run through charity. And the grants are all about the same goal: to increase student enrollment in the university, creating economic breakthroughs for the region.

Tennessee has launched the Tennessee Promise, a statewide program that provides 12th-graders the opportunity to exempt tuition at any state's community college by 2014. The city of Chicago also announced a program same in the same year.

Considering the effectiveness of these programs, researchers think that "free college" is likely to be feasible on a larger scale. They believe the federal government can use financial power to encourage states to adopt the program.

Even if states can not pay for four years of college, every two years free will still be worth the cost. A report from 2014 shows a two-year free program in all 50 states that can be implemented through federal funding available. Many of the proposed programs are available free of charge for two-year associate degrees (usually offered at community colleges), while others want to apply for two years free of charge to all four-year students.

For a time, the free college movement was supported by so many people and even the president. In January 2015, the free university recounted by President Obama in the Federal Encyclical, became an important topic in the discussion of higher education policy.

Americans can upgrade their skills at a reasonable price, Obama argues. 40% of American students attend community college, and it is here that they begin to exempt tuition.

Before lawmakers and gatherers in Capitol Hill, Obama mentioned the success of Tennessee and Chicago. He wanted to spread that idea across the United States so that people could gain two years of college as a junior high.

Although this plan has no chance of becoming a law, largely because Congress does not fully support it, it still has a certain meaning. "The Obama administration's proposal really draws national attention to free college," said Robert Kelchen, a professor at Seton Hall University.

Snowball named "free college" continues to expand. Politicians such as Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont or Senator Elizabeth Warren of the state show support for the idea of ​​free education. This was a big deal between Sanders and Hillary Clinton, who initially argued that she believed in "affordable university" rather than "free college."

Later, Hillary Clinton represented the Democratic Party running for the White House. During the campaign, she swore allegations, proposing to drop school fees at public universities for families earning less than $ 125,000 each year.

However, there is one person who does not share the same vocation on college tuition exemption: Donald Trump. In May 2016, Inside Higher Ed interviewed Sam Clovis, former co-president of Trump's campaign, on the Republican candidate's perspective. Does Trump have free college support? The answer to Clovis is "certainly not".

Many people think that it is not important, because Clinton is supposed to become president. A college-wide free program, even if it's only for a certain group of students, seems to be possible. However, Donald Trump was elected. 

Budget constraints

The "promise program" is more complex than it was in 2005. "Free University" has become an inaccurate terminology for all plans with the goal of lowering the cost of college, if not for free. Literally, the plan at the local, state, and federal levels is different.

The status of applying free tuition fee in the United States.  Picture: The Atlantic
The status of applying free tuition fee in the United States. Picture: The Atlantic

For example, programs in some state-run states pay tuition fees for students after paying for government Pell grants or other types of financial aid. For many low-income students, although this program significantly alleviates the burden, it also means that they must use the grant to pay the tuition fee and not be able to pay for it. books and documents, rent or food.

Another model is "Debt Elimination". Many argue that debt elimination is more appropriate for college admissions because it addresses the costs incurred by students. Of course this kind of support should be returned somehow.

Even so, Trump's victory has made the hope of a free university plan or a nationwide debt clear. Kim Dancy, a policy analyst at New America, believes that the plan will not happen in the near future. Advocates turned their attention to the state level, beginning to track states in the right direction.

One of those states is Tennessee. The tuition-free model has become a standard for all states to follow, especially after they are extended to older adults and unfinished alumni, in addition to those who have just graduated from high school. learn.

However, the disadvantage of the states is the constraints on the budget. The funds available for the free university program are limited, making the terms tight. For example, the tuition-free program may only be available for certain courses at community colleges, requiring students to live and work in the state a few years after graduation, or for free. for high school graduates with a certain GPA score.

The state's budget for tertiary education is running out, meaning many tuition-free plans are not covered by mandatory spending, which may change from year to year.

Low funding and uncertainty can lead to catastrophic consequences for students. For example, Oregon, which exempts tuition at community colleges in 2016, is unable to fully fund 2017, so some students are not eligible.

Dream far away

Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act on July 2, 1862, during the Civil War. The law passed the land grant for states to open universities. The task of higher education institutions was to train young people on "agricultural and mechanical engineering".

In the first few decades after its founding, universities in the former Confederate states did not allow black students to attend. So, the Morrill Act only benefits a group of people, not all. 28 years later, the injustice was resolved. The second Morrill Act, signed by Benjamin Harrison in 1890, created college-level land for black students.

All said that the United States had many programs related to higher education with good orientation but not perfect. But history also shows that these programs can be improved and expanded if enough is determined.

Tiffany Jones, director of higher education policy at the Education Trust, said the organization uses a variety of criteria to evaluate college-exempted tuition-based models, concluding that dozens of programs are being proposed and in place. nationwide does not meet all. Similarly, the Institute for Higher Education Policy also found that current programs in Tennessee and New York did not bring much benefit to low-income students, while the subject needs attention first.

Some free college advocates argue that the only way to get the most out of aid is through federal intervention. However, Democrats, enthusiastic supporters have little or no power at the moment. Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii states that when the Democratic Party has a chance to return to power after the upcoming election, they will try to help students reach college. So far, all are hypothetical.

The idea of ​​a free college is still in its infancy. It took 28 years for the Morrill Act to be in place, while the new Kalamazoo Promise was launched 13 years ago. The dream of a basic public education system is no longer considered K-12 (kindergarten to grade 12) but K-16, still out of reach.

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