- Recent data suggests that Tennessee's free community college program shows great potential in increasing graduation rates and access for diverse student groups, according to a report in the Tennessean. Since its debut in 2015, students earning degrees or certificates has increased by more than 60%.
- First-time freshmen enrollment at Tennessee community colleges increased by 24.7% in 2015, and 3,257 students in the program's first cohort earned a credential within 5 semesters.
- Tennessee was among the nation's first states to implement a free community college access program, which has since grown to 16 states nationwide with the latest being announced last week in Maryland.
Free tuition programs can improve access to college for lower-income students, and some offer additional stipends. The Oregon Promise, for example, awards a minimum of $1,000 to the poorest students to help with college fees, books and transportation.
But most state and higher education leaders would say that there isn't enough quantitative data to determine how effective free community college programs will be because most are in their infancy. Some already have hit roadblocks.
For example, Oregon had to dial back resources for more affluent students seeking entry into its free community college program due to a lack of available funding after its first year. Also, unlike Oregon, most of these programs do not reduce cost requirements or anxiety for those who need help navigating the extra cost burden of transportation, food and childcare.
And while free tuition may be a big gain for political capital and reducing appropriations, most community colleges do not spur economic development in their communities because of the lack of residential facilities, athletic amenities, and faculty research.