The Emergence of Tuition-Free Higher Education in the United States: The Perspective of Students in Tennessee

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Freuler, Amanda
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University Honors College, Middle Tennessee State University
In recent years, “free college” in the United States has become both a popular and controversial topic of debate. Discussion concerning free post-secondary education erupted shortly after President Barack Obama proposed America's College Promise Act in 2015, which would allow high school seniors to attend two years of community college or a college of applied technology tuition-free after graduation. Part of Obama's initiative is to provide students with the opportunity to earn the first half of their bachelor's degree and save each student about $3,800 per year on college tuition. In addition to saving on tuition funds, America's College Promise is geared toward helping students to become employed by obtaining degrees or earning technical training certificates. While the intentions of this program could potentially result in a beneficial impact on students, employers, and communities, not everyone agrees that free college will create positive change. A survey taken by the Pew Research Center in 2015 showed that public opinion on free college is about a 50/50 split in the United States; nevertheless, 75 percent of Americans agree that college is unaffordable for most people. Outside of the United States, select countries like Germany not only offer two-year college educations for free, but four-year educations as well (Strasser). The American public is generally unaware that Chicago, New Jersey, and Oregon already have implemented free post-secondary education programs, with Tennessee being the state leading this movement (America’s College Promise). In fact, America's College Promise has been modeled on Gov. Bill Haslam's Tennessee Promise scholarship program, which has slowly been expanding since 2008 (City of Knoxville). As the debate over America's College Promise continues, the Tennessee Promise program has successfully given students across Tennessee the opportunity to attend community college tuition-free for years and continues to do so.
free college, higher education, TN Promise, tnAchieves, America's college promise