To rebuild America’s economy in a way that offers everyone an equal chance to get ahead, federal support for free college tuition should be a priority in any economic recovery plan in 2021.
Research shows that the private and public economic benefit of free community college tuition would outweigh the cost. That’s why half of the states in the country already have some form of free college tuition.
The Democratic Party 2020 platform calls for making two years of community college tuition free for all students with a federal/state partnership similar to the Obama administration’s 2015 plan. It envisions a program as universal and free as K-12 education is today, with all the sustainable benefits such programs (including Social Security and Medicare) enjoy. It also calls for making four years of public college tuition free, again in partnership with states, for students from families making less than $125,000 per year.
The Republican Party didn’t adopt a platform for the 2020 election, deferring to President Trump’s policies, which among other things, stand in opposition to free college. Congressional Republicans, unlike many of their state counterparts, also have not supported free college tuition in the past. However, it should be noted that the very first state free college tuition program was initiated in 2015 by former Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican. Subsequently, such deep red states with Republican majorities in their state legislature such as West Virginia, Kentucky and Arkansas have adopted similar programs.
Establishing free college tuition benefits for more Americans would be the 21st-century equivalent of the Depression-era Works Progress Administration initiative. That program not only created immediate work for the unemployed, but also offered skills training for nearly 8 million unskilled workers in the 1930s. Just as we did in the 20th century, by laying the foundation for our current system of universal free high school education and rewarding our World War II veterans with free college tuition to help ease their way back into the workforce, the 21st century system of higher education we build must include the opportunity to attend college tuition-free.
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