Tennessee, Oregon to Introduce Bills for Free Community College

It's no secret that post-secondary education in the United States can be extremely expensive, but lawmakers in Oregon and Tennessee are trying to change that with bills that would make community college free for state high school grads.

With college grads earning more on average over their lifetimes than non-college grads, the appeal of attending a post-secondary institution is still there. However, the rising cost of tuition means a degree is becoming increasingly hard to afford, but lawmakers are trying to change that. Senators in Tennessee and Oregon are trying to table bills that would make community college free for high school grads in the state, which save students thousands of dollars and allow them to become highly educated.


Republican Governor Bill Haslam recently introduced a bill that would give high school grads in the state two free years of tuition at a state community college, saying, "If we want to have jobs ready for Tennesseans, we have to make sure Tennesseans are ready for jobs." It's an aggressive stance that will no doubt be met with fierce opposition, notably schools themselves that rely on tuition, but he plans on using funding from the Tennessee Education Lottery, which would still leave $110 million for other uses.

Haslam also addressed the issue of college (over)attendance by saying, "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 workforce." While there's a risk in flooding the market with even more college grads, they do tend to work in higher-paying jobs, which means they also pay more in taxes.


Senate Bill 1524 takes the same approach as the Tennessean one, which would create a program in Oregon that would give state high school graduates free tuition at a community college for a certain period of time. One concern with this bill, though, was whether or not home-schooled students would also qualify for the program, they would.

Another concern is who's going to pay for it: the estimated cost, if every eligible Oregonian took advantage of it, would be about $250 million. But not every single high school graduate automatically goes to college, let alone community college, so the estimated cost should be viewed as a ceiling, not a floor. But speaking of floor, the bill passed with a unanimous vote of five to zero, and is now sitting on the Senate floor for further discussion.

Impact for Students

This is a very progressive approach by Senate lawmakers for a number of reasons:


  • It eliminates the hassle of working with third parties to secure loans, funds and financing
  • More students would have access to higher education
  • High school students have an increased incentive to graduate
  • Community college credits can be transferred to four-year universities, generally
  • More students can enter the workforce with specialized education
  • States can retain their own brainpower instead of losing it to other nations
  • College graduates can enter the workforce with far less debt than before
If this bill passes in Tennessee or Oregon, thousands more students would have the doors opened to college than before. It'll take a huge amount of cooperation on all sides, but if it goes through, it can have a tremendous impact on the economy.
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