Giving Compass' Take:

• Tiffany Jones explains that free college tuition in insufficient to close race and wealth gaps in college attainment because disadvantaged students need additional supports. 

• What type of program can adequately support disadvantaged students? how can schools target students in need to receive extra support?  

• Learn about creating equity along the paths to and through college.

America’s fleeting attention span has been captured by the sprawling college admission bribery scandal unveiled by the Justice Department, sparking talk of how untold numbers of the wealthy and famous use fraud to get special treatment for their children, in a supposedly meritocratic system. The revelation of this particular scheme comes at a time when “free public college” has become a central tenet of the progressive left’s platform.

Having a robust higher education plan is now a prerequisite for any 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, and several states have already built public programs that heavily subsidize post-high school tuition. Those developments have come in response to a growing recognition — as the student debt crisis has anxiously trod into trillion dollar territory — that loans often enable students to finish programs but then leave them financially hobbled and unable to fully contribute to the economy.

Less recognized but just as devastatingly widespread is the unaddressed shadow crisis of nontuition costs, like housing, food, books and transportation (as well as child care). These necessities — often rendered ancillary fees by rich or upper middle-class parents who can pick up the tab as their children focus on classes — are rarely covered in even the most generous of states.

The gap in funding has passively created a disincentive for members of working-class communities, particularly those of color, to enter higher education. Those who enroll instead of taking up the stagnant wage work that, ironically, they are told college will help them escape, often risk financial doom.

For lower- and middle-income students “free public college” isn’t truly free if only tuition is taken care of. According to the College Board, nontuition expenses took up over two-thirds of the average budget for community college students in the 2017-18 school year. For many students from humble backgrounds in four-year programs, the cost breakdown is similar. But currently, as a result of largely neglecting college expenses beyond tuition, too many states are generating perverse outcomes regarding who receives public aid.

Read the full article about free college by Tiffany Jones at The Hechinger Report.