Giving Compass' Take:

• Free college is a great idea in theory, but low-income students who lack safety nets from families are in need of more holistic resources from schools that go beyond financial support. 

• How can schools with free tuition plans be more inclusive and realistic about the populations of students they are trying to help?

• Read about similar mishaps with debt-free college programs. 

Across the country, local, state, and federal leaders have debated whether college should be free. Over the course of these discussions, a key for education and political leaders has been to define the intent of a free college policy. Goals have reflected varying efforts to address affordability, increase access, and support workforce development.

Accordingly, policy and practice professionals need to shift our focus beyond whether free college programs should exist to how we can ensure that students enrolled in college through these programs have the greatest opportunity for success.

To really help students, policy needs to go beyond financial support. Free college alone does not address major hurdles students face in attaining a credential, particularly for low-income, first-generation students and others who lack the family and social safety nets their wealthier peers may enjoy.

With states across the country launching or expanding free college programs, it is increasingly vital that they have a model for supporting the success of their students — one that is proven and can be applied at scale and addresses both policy and process.

A recent report from The Century Foundation shows that of the 16 states with free college programs, only five provide student supports such as first-year experience programs, college success programs, or mentoring. From a policy perspective, academic and financial challenges are often viewed as the primary reasons students fail to persist to graduation; this makes sense, given the corresponding policy levers traditionally available to decisionmakers.

To ensure that policies support a broad spectrum of students and set these individuals up for success, it is crucial that they address the complete student experience and provide for wraparound support to advance students’ personal, professional, and academic development; the needs and experiences of adult learners and other nontraditional student groups in particular demand it.

Read the full article about free college by Brian Sponsler and David Jarrat at The 74