Free Community College Education

May 7, 2019

I recently spoke with Kathleen Megan of the CT Mirror about Connecticut's possibility of offering free college tuition. This would greatly benefit our state, and I am excited about the possibility of it coming to fruition.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

"According to numbers provided by the Office of Fiscal Analysis, Haddad said that in Fiscal Year 2022, a free college or debt-free college with an income limit of about $70,000 would cost anywhere from $2.9 million, if it yielded a 10 percent increase for first time full-time students, to $3.3 million — a number based on a 25 percent increase in enrollment.

With more students enrolling, the revenue gained would range from an estimated $2.3 million to $4.9 million.

But in a program with no family income limit, Haddad said, the Office of Fiscal Analysis has estimated — after researching similar free college programs in Rhode Island and Tennessee — the numbers on additional enrollment of full time students range from 10 percent to as high as 45 percent. For Fiscal Year 2022, that high estimate would mean a cost of $8.9 million and a revenue gain of $10.7 million.

As part of its calculations, the Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated that the loss in revenue at the state universities — the result of students choosing the free community colleges for their first two years — would be about $2.8 million. If subtracted from the revenues, that would leave the program with a $1 million price tag, though proponents note that any loss may be offset by a growing number of community college graduates going on to the state universities."

A universal free college program, regardless of income, would bring in many more students than if an income limit were applied. And a surge in enrollment is exactly what our colleges need, because declining enrollment has been a growing problem in recent years and is contributing to the system's fiscal distress.

Free college has been proven to work in our neighboring state of Rhode Island. In 2017, they began offering a similar free community college plan, and had a 43% increase in enrollment in the first year. The Community College of Rhode Island reports that over the past two years, the number of low-income, first time, full-time students has gone up 143 percent, while the number of students of color has gone up 164 percent. This is closing the equity gap and making college accessible and affordable for everyone.

It is important to note that Connecticut needs to grow a skilled workforce, and making college accessible to all people with great potential and talent will help us do that. The Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges says that most of their degrees are awarded in computer science, engineering, and health sciences. We must fill our open jobs in these industries, and we can do that by making these education programs accessible to all!

Thank you, Kathleen Megan, for thoroughly and thoughtfully reporting on this subject. You can read the full article here