Redeeming America’s Promise has a credible, fiscally responsible plan to make public colleges tuition free. But we aren’t the only ones advocating for this fundamental transformation of our system for financing higher education.
The idea of making a promise to young students that they only have to worry about their grades and not about the cost of attending college started in Kalamazoo, Michigan eight years ago and has spread to communities across the country as disparate as El Dorado, Arkansas and Tulsa, Oklahoma. Now states are beginning to think about ways to do the same thing for their residents, and one Republican Governor of Tennessee, Bill Haslam, has signed legislation that will make community colleges in his state free of all tuition and fees by the fall of 2015. With this building support for the idea, it’s only a matter of time before there is a national consensus in favor of using the resources of the federal government to help make it a reality.
The cities that have adopted a version of the Kalamazoo Promise have all done so as part of an economic development strategy. The city of Kalamazoo has experienced a rebirth of their housing market as people moved into the city so their children could qualify for a free college education upon graduating from high school. El Dorado, AR has the same public school attendance requirement but now allows the scholarship money to be used at nearby private colleges as well. Tulsa’s program, called Tulsa Achieves, requires two years of community service as well as high school graduation. It is even more targeted at keeping young people in their community and making them a productive part of their workforce. Tennessee’s Promise is part of the Governor’s larger “Drive to 55” initiative whose mission is for “workforce and economic development, a drive to reduce unemployment and improve quality of life”.
The goal is the same in every case-improve the economic skills of the local community or state by making sure they get the level of education today’s economy requires. The time has come to apply the same logic to the entire nation’s workforce. The federal government can and should create American Promise Scholarships that will pay for the cost of tuition at public universities and community colleges in every state, ensuring our nation’s economic competitiveness and expanding America’s historical commitment to universal, free education.
Image Source: Mark Bialek/AP-File