Connecticut should implement tuition-free community college

In March, Detroit launched an initiative known as the Detroit Promise Zone Program. It permits graduating seniors who are accepted to a Detroit community college to attend without paying tuition.

By waiving tuition for high school graduates, this program hopes to increase college attendance and high school graduation rates by eliminating a financial barrier that is burdensome to many students. Connecticut should adopt a similar initiative for economically depressed areas of the state with low graduation rates.

As reported by CNN, the Detroit Program will initially be funded by a private scholarship foundation, but in 2018, it will begin to rely on property taxes. As Connecticut is facing massive budget deficits (about $900 million for next year), such an initiative could not feasibly be passed in the current fiscal situation.

However, should Connecticut’s lagging economy and tax revenues improve in the near future, this program would be a valuable aid to students struggling to afford the cost of a college education.

Students in economically depressed neighborhoods have few opportunities open to them after high school. Guaranteeing that they would be able to attend community college upon graduation would offer a strong incentive to graduate from high school and pursue a higher education. Students would not have to discount the possibility of a college education because they fear they would not be able to afford tuition payments.

Programs such as this may be a first step toward creating greater educational opportunities for poor students in failing school districts. It offers a path that, in the future, may help revitalize these communities by providing clear post-graduation opportunities.

Tuition-free community college is becoming an increasingly popular idea to improve graduation rates and increase college attendance. As reported by CNN, “Tennessee made community college tuition-free for graduating seniors last fall, and Oregon is set to launch a similar program next year.”

With many sections of the nation looking to these programs, Connecticut should consider adopting one as well. Unfortunately, we do not have available revenue to enact a program of this nature currently, but we should begin thinking about creating one in the future. While the state cannot support it presently, we should consider private scholarship funding as Detroit currently does.

If local community colleges could reach out to donors who were interested in improving education opportunities for the community, we may be able to begin sending some students to community college without direct state action. We should take the steps we can to raise graduation rates and give more students the opportunity to go to college.