Across the nation, nearly 20 states offer statewide free college programs in an effort to increase the number of students attending college. The hope is that "five years from now, we would expect that a majority of the states in the country would have free college tuition, and that would be a tipping point." States including Tennessee, Arkansas, Indiana, Minnesota, Montana, Oregon and Rhode Island have already rolled out statewide free community-college programs, "and more are expected to follow."
The cost of college tuition has "historically risen about 3 percent to 5 percent a year, according to the College Board, continuously outpacing inflation and family income." During the recession, average tuition and fees rose 26 percent and 35 percent at private four-year schools and four-year public schools, respectively. For many students, free tuition programs can be a "lifeline," where "there are students that may have counted themselves out and when they hear that you can go for free that provides a sense of momentum." Some of the current free college programs being offered include New York's Excelsior Scholarship and the Tennessee Promise Scholarship.
Many of the free college programs are "last-dollar" scholarships, where the program pays for the tuition and fees left after college financial aid and college grants are applied. Critics of the free college programs argue that lower-income students already pay less tuition to state school - if anything at all - "through a combination of existing grants and scholarships." Some believe that the free college programs aren't "going to do anything to help the group that really does need help the most...the students whose family incomes are less than $60,000 a year." Additionally, some of the free college scholarship programs are tied to set requirements, such as requiring students to live and work in state after graduation or maintaining full-time stats; potential obstacles for low-income students who must work and balance family commitment.