YOU DECIDE: Should Community College Be Free?

Posted by on Oct 27, 2022 in You Decide!

Have you thought about your plans following high school graduation? Community colleges are a great option for many students. They are often closer to home and less expensive than traditional four-year universities. Many community colleges offer flexible hours for students who choose to work or raise a family at the same time.  

Presidents Obama and Biden have proposed making community college free for every student who wants to attend. Currently, about half of U.S. states are experimenting with tuition-free models. Some colleges have limitations on these programs–such as requiring students to work in exchange for tuition, or to live in the same county where the college is located. While some students and educators are thrilled at the prospect of free college for everyone who wants it, others are concerned that free tuition can lead to unforeseen challenges.  

Mid adult college student talks with friend
Should community colleges be tuition free?

So, YOU DECIDE: Should community colleges be free? 


  • Over time, free college will pay for itself. Making college free has been shown to increase enrollment and graduation rates. More college graduates create a better-educated workforce. College graduates with higher-paying jobs contribute more to the economy.  
  • A better-educated public also makes better-educated voters. This is important for a thriving democracy. 
  • It’s a racial equity issue. According to 2018 data from the Lumina Foundation, African American students are twenty percent less likely to earn a college degree than white Americans. Lumina’s data also shows that Hispanic and Latino students are twenty-five percent less likely to earn a college degree. Native Americans are 31 percent less likely to earn a college degree.  
  • Free tuition makes it more likely for first-generation and low-income students to consider a college degree by greatly reducing the cost barrier. (Currently, low-income and first-generation students are four times more likely to drop out of college than their higher-income peers.) 
  • Students will be able to pursue public service degrees when they don’t have to worry about paying back loans. This will increase the number of qualified teachers, nurses, police officers, and other critical jobs. 
  • When students don’t reach their educational potential, it costs the U.S. economy nearly $1 trillion per year. This is because of lost wages, lower consumer spending, and the cost of providing additional social services for low-income citizens. 


  • Community colleges are already affordable. On average, tuition at a community college is about one-third the cost of tuition at a four-year public university.  
  • Community college students are eligible to apply for federal financial aid, such as Pell Grants, and most community colleges also offer extensive financial aid and scholarship assistance.  
  • Paying for a college education encourages students to commit to their education. Free college tuition will not necessarily lead to higher graduation rates because students lack a financial commitment to reach graduation. 
  • Not all high school graduates are prepared for college-level classes, whatever the cost of tuition. Students should not take on the obligation of college if it does not suit their life goals or their economic future. 
  • If a two-year degree is available to every student, then it will start to become so common that employers will make a four-year degree the new minimum standard for some employment opportunities that currently require an associate degree. 

Should community colleges be tuition free?