Free College Introduced in 4 More States

Free College Introduced in 4 More States
Susan Dutca-Lovell

More and more colleges are introducing free college scholarship programs, with more than 20 states currently on board. The latest states to join the free community-college program initiative are Arkansas, Indiana, Montana and Rhode Island. Some critics claim that, while the idea sounds great, free college may not actually help those who need it most.

New York's Excelsior Scholarship already awards free tuition for four years to state residents whose family household adjusted gross income caps out at $100,000. Excelsior Scholarship recipients are able to attend SUNY or CUNY college without paying tuition, granted that they plan to live and work in New York once they have graduated college. Announced earlier this August, Rhode Island will also offer a free college scholarship to state residents who intend to remain in-state after graduation. Unlike the Excelsior Scholarship, Rhode Island's free college Promise Scholarship does not have an income requirement.

The free college program in Arkansas will award its first grants in the fall to traditional or nontraditional students who enroll in a STEM or other high-demand fields at state community or technical colleges. ArFuture, or the Arkansas Future Grant, is a last-dollar grant which will be dispersed only after students have received federal and state aid and requires grant recipients to work full-time in Arkansas for at least three years after graduation. If the free college scholarship requirements are not met, "the grant converts to a loan that must be repaid to the state."

Some critics argue that lower-income students already receive financial aid through grants and scholarships and don't pay much tuition for in-state colleges and universities. "In fact, tying the scholarship to four-year programs could increase costs for low-income students, who would otherwise complete a two-year program and enter the workforce more quickly." For students whose family incomes are less than $60,000 a year, free college programs won't "do anything to help the group that really does need help the most," according to the Director of the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute.

It's important to read all the requirements and fine print when it comes to free college scholarship programs and know what scholarships will cover - many such scholarships do not cover books, or room and board.

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