2017 in Review: Momentum for Free College Tuition Continues to Build

Posted by Morley Winograd on December 18, 2017 at 6:24 AM

This has been a remarkable year of progress in our campaign to make college tuition free. As the year draws to a close, residents of eleven states, more than double the number we could claim at the beginning of the year, are now enjoying the benefits of free college tuition.

As a result, over 1 million students have enrolled in some form of a state Promise program this year, many of them the first in their family to do so. We plan on telling some of their stories in 2018 to help convince other states to jump on the free college tuition bandwagon. If someone you know was given a new opportunity in life thanks to a free college tuition program in their state, please encourage them to share their story with us so we can spread the word and help bring similar support to other students.

Support for the concept of states making their colleges tuition free also hit an all-time high this year. Half the country, according to CFCT’s latest survey research, now strongly supports the idea, and overall support has risen to a level, 81%, reflective of the bipartisan support the idea continues to enjoy. When we started our polling in December of 2016, strong support for the idea of making college tuition free was at 35%, driven mostly by the attention the issue received in the presidential campaign. But all the gain since then has come about because of debates at the state level and the work we and others have done to promote the idea.

In our latest survey, for the first time, we asked people to rank how they would want their state to spend any extra amount of money they might receive. Only two state programs, health care and K-12 education, ranked higher than free college tuition. Even when we separated the idea of free four-year college tuition from two years free tuition, the overall priorities of the American public didn’t change. See the full results in our latest polling update.

Our efforts in support of state policy makers also bore some new fruit in 2017.

  • Tennessee extended its first in the nation Promise program to all adults who want to return to a community or technical college to get their certificate or degree this fall. We expect that their Tennessee Reconnect program, which was discussed in detail with state leaders at our May workshop in Denver, will be copied by other states as well, just as the Tennessee Promise has become the model several state Promise programs – including Nevada and Rhode Island – enacted this year.
  • New York’s Excelsior Scholarship program made that state the first to extend the concept of free tuition to its four-year institutions, for students at any level of undergraduate studies.
  • California’s new College Promise Grant will be the first to offer a “first dollar” scholarship at the state level when the program is funded for the Fall 2018 term. This means that, assuming funds are appropriated for those grants in next year’s budget, Pell and Cal Grant eligible freshmen community college students who take a full course load can use these need-based funds on books, transportation, and other costs of attendance.

Each of these programs and those of the other states that have enacted some form of free tuition are summarized in our Briefing Book for State Leaders that will celebrate its one-year anniversary this December. In just one year, it has become the country’s most authoritative guide book on how to make state public colleges tuition free.

Our influence on the growth of free college tuition is not limited to just the dozens of state policy makers and influencers we talk to every month. Our list of grass root supporters who we regularly contact through email has grown to over 8000 people in 2017 and the number of our supporters following us on social media is even greater. Reflecting the growing interest in our cause, the total number of our interactions at all levels continues to grow every month.

When I look at our Momentum Map, showing how robust each states’ effort to make college tuition more affordable is, I am constantly amazed at how green it is getting. Thanks to your support, over 50% of the states are colored in some shade of green, and we are making progress to color in more states with the deepest shade, indicating the enactment of a statewide promise program. We promise you we will be unrelenting in our efforts on behalf of our cause in the coming year and in return hope we can continue to count on your support for our bipartisan Campaign for Free College Tuition.


Happy New Year!

Morley Winograd

We can't do this alone!

Our goal is to make higher education a possibility for every American, without regard to their financial circumstances.

We have a lot to do and not much time to do it, so your support is critical for our campaign to succeed. It’s with your investment that we can fundamentally reform how higher education is financed in this country, opening the doors to a more equitable society.

If you agree with our goal, our plan, and the urgency of the problem, we ask that you give what you can to help us write the next chapter in our nation’s history of continuously expanding access to universal, free education.

The Campaign for Free College Tuition is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization established in the State of Washington in 2014 to educate parents, students, the higher education community, policy makers and taxpayers about efforts needed to fundamentally reform our nation’s system for financing higher education. This website and CFCT’s educational outreach activities are made possible through generous individual and foundation support.