A 29-year-old woman hustles to her community college campus, running late. She attends her classes, sits in the front row taking extensive notes and rushes back to her car as fast as she can. She can’t go to the evening study session, even though she needs it. It would require her to miss work which would likely result in losing her job. She doesn’t get home until after nine. She scrapes together a quick, cheap meal and then works on her homework until she falls asleep, once again forgetting to set her alarm.
She keeps going because she wants a better life. She hopes her degree will get her that promotion at work or a better paying job where she won’t have to choose between making rent and eating.
According to a study conducted by the Wisconsin Hope Lab, 63% of community college students who have children are “food insecure” — limited or uncertain availability of adequate or safe food. 14% of the students are homeless. With countless stories like this across all regions of the country, several states have stepped up to provide students the solutions they need pursue their education.
Tennessee launched the Tennessee Reconnect Act in an effort to reach their Drive to 55 initiative’s goal to increase the number of advanced degree-holding residents to 55%. Individuals who have been in residence over a year and do not already possess a degree, can go to a community college or participating school for free.
That’s right. Free.
Tennessee hopes this act, funded by the state lottery, will give many more in the state the opportunity to earn a degree and Tennessee is not the only state taking such steps.
The University of Michigan developed the Go Blue Guarantee. In-state residents earning $65,000 or less are eligible for four years of free tuition. Students are also eligible for financial aid to cover non-tuition costs.
New York offers tuition-free education at all state colleges for in-state residents whose families earn less than $125,000. Students will still be responsible for room and board and other expenses, and after graduating, they will be required to live and work in New York for the same length of time they receive the scholarship.
Oregon offers community college for $50 a term through the Oregon Promise state grant. Students must have graduated from an Oregon high school or received a GED, had a 2.5 or higher cumulative GPA and been an Oregon resident for at least a year. If a student’s tuition is covered by federal aid, the grant will provide a $1,000 award to help pay for books and other college costs.
As enrollment numbers continue to decline and reaching nontraditional and first-generation students becomes more important, will more states, cities and schools offer programs like these? Will these pilot programs work as they were intended? Only time will tell, but for the financially struggling students who desperately want to learn, this could make all the difference.