It's no secret that college tuition has been skyrocketing—a plus for institutions of higher education looking to up their cafeteria food game (breaded chicken and tater tots are a delicacy, and should be prepared with only the finest ingredients), but a big minus for prospective students.
According to College Board, the average cost, of enrollment for the 2018-19 school year ranged from $21,370 to $37,430 at public four-year institutions to $48,510 at private four-year institutions. Expenses are astronomical, your tuition might as well be Neil Armstrong, and college costs have only been trending upward since 1988-89.
There are many reasons for the escalation of college expenses, including an increase in demand, a lack of state funding, a need for more faculty members and money to pay them, and growing student services. Of course, many high school graduates are qualified for—and eager to—attend college, but only some are able to pony up that kind of dough.
Luckily, as tuition increases more rapidly than wages, some states are attempting to find solutions for students who wouldn't otherwise have the financial resources to attend college.
In April of 2017, New York became the first state to make tuition free (with no tie to academic performance) for eligible students at four-year institutions via the Excelsior Scholarship. Students who receive the scholarship are required to enroll full-time at either a SUNY or CUNY two-year or four-year program, to live and work in New York for the same number of years as they attend college tuition-free, and to be members of families with annual incomes of under $125,000.
Students are also not allowed gaps in their education, meaning no time away from class to care for children or relatives, so unless you and your loved ones are members of a superhuman species and you never fall ill and never need a few months to prioritize your mental health and never question if the path you're on is the right one, existentially speaking, and never get your hair stuck in your lip gloss, you need to make sure you're okay with potentially making sacrifices in order to go to college tuition-free.
This past September, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship, a plan to make New Mexico institutions of higher education tuition-free for in-state residents. The scholarship, along with existing state and federal scholarship and grant infrastructure, will benefit an estimated 55,000 students for fall 2020.
The Opportunity Scholarship offers funding to students to cover tuition and fees (the scholarship cannot be used for room and board or textbooks) after the student has applied for federal and state aid—this is known as a last-dollar scholarship, meaning the scholarship covers whatever tuition is left unpaid after financial aid grants. New Mexico is the second state to make tuition free for eligible students at both two-year and four-year institutions.
Unlike New York, the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship has no caveat for gaps in education and promises students four years of free tuition even to those who are financially able to pay more. A recent high school graduate can receive four years of support at any public, post-secondary institution in New Mexico, provided that the student is a resident of New Mexico, enrolls full-time and maintains at least a 2.5 GPA.
An adult returning to school can receive two years of support at any New Mexico community college, provided that the student is a resident of New Mexico, enrolls at least part-time, maintains at least a 2.5 GPA, and has not already completed a bachelor's degree. Current students can't receive retroactive benefits, but may be eligible for tuition assistance in future semesters.
Other states are also creating scholarship programs to increase educational opportunities for students. Most of these programs offer college students two years of free tuition at state community colleges, associate-degree programs, or vocational schools, and all but New York and New Mexico currently require a student to demonstrate some degree of academic success in order to qualify to participate.
Eleven states have scholarship programs in place (Kentucky, Indiana, Nevada, Arkansas, New Jersey, Maryland, Tennessee, New York, Delaware, Rhode Island, and Oregon) and nine more states are working towards implementing them.
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