Tennessee considers tuition-free college

One state's solution of burdensome college costs: free higher education for all.

Tuition costs at public colleges and universities aren't going down. But Tennessee could buck the trend in a big way. 

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam is proposing that the state provide two years of free education at community colleges or trade schools, The New York Times reports. The only requirements: a student needs to be a state resident with a high school diploma or have equivalent credentials. There would be no other academic or financial need requirements. As the governor told The Times:

"We just needed to change the culture of expectations in our state," the governor said Tuesday in a telephone interview. "College is not for everybody, but it has to be for a lot more people than it’s been in the past if we’re going to have a competitive work force."

And for a law -- if the state legislature acts on the proposal -- that would give high school grads free rides to community college, the plan seems relatively affordable. According to The Times, the annual cost would be around $34 million and would be paid for by diverting lottery revenue. 

The idea isn't unprecedented. In 1960, the California Master Plan for Higher Education provided tuition-free higher education until 1984. Still, the costs there are relatively low compared to other states, even if the idea of tuition remains a touchy subject.

In fact, other states are also thinking up ways to reduce the burden of college tuition. In Oregon, they're considering a number of ideas: free community college; a pay-later system that pulls a percentage of your future salary; and requiring all high school students to earn college credit.

For American students not living in a state that's working on lowering tuition, there are a handful of colleges around the U.S. (I was surprised to find) that offer free tuition.

And while it might seem like a crazy idea, if we extended the idea of free tuition to a federal level it's actually more plausible than you might expect. That's because, as The Atlantic points out, the Department of Education reports that it collected $62.9 billion from tuition at public colleges in 2012, but spent $69 billion on grants and financial aid programs. And when you consider the impact student loans are having on the U.S. economy, free tuition seems like an even better idea.

Photo: Flickr/Don Burkett

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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