With about 10 days until the presidential election, higher ed is definitely not at the forefront of any policy debate. But a Biden victory — if paired with a Democratic Senate — could mean tons of new attention for higher ed: a push for a big Pell Grant increase, student-debt reforms, and perhaps a national free-college plan.
As we’ve talked about before,
“free college” fits nicely on a bumper sticker but means so many different things.
Maybe it’s filling in the financial-aid gap for two years at a community-college. Maybe we’re talking about all public colleges for people who earn less than $125,000. Maybe it’s just recent high-school grads. Maybe it’s everyone.
Here’s a new idea, though. Could our Year of Zoom change the conversation around online education and its role in federally supported free college? That’s the provocative idea from Suzanne Kahn, director of education, jobs and worker power at the Roosevelt Institute, a progressive think tank.
Here was the idea she outlined:
- The government pays for colleges to develop high-quality, basic courses as part of a national database.
- Government then offers the courses for free.
- Colleges must accept the credits if they want to receive federal financial aid.
A new federally-supported database of thousands of free or low-cost college courses sounds unlikely. (That MarketWatch piece acknowledges no policymakers are working on such a thing.) But would it be any more radical than doubling the Pell Grant or cutting income-based student loan payments from 10 percent to 5 percent? Both of those are part of the Biden/Harris higher ed plan. What’s another radical proposal to add to the pile?
Also on the free-college front this week, The Education Trust is out with an update to its 2018 report
about state-based free college programs. A few highlights:
Eight states have added free college programs over the last three years.
- Most states still focus just on tuition — not all the other costs of going to college, from books to living expenses.
Only a third of the states offer four years of tuition and include a bachelor’s degree.
Adults, returning students, undocumented students and the formerly incarcerated are all often cut out of these programs, the report found.
who directs higher ed policy at Ed Trust, pointed at the new Washington State program
as a model, but isn’t as excited by some of the others:
“I remain concerned that too many states offer a ‘light’ version of free college that’s heavy on rhetoric while excluding the very students who have the greatest financial need and who have the most to gain from higher education.”