Free College Becoming Reality for More People

Posted by Maica Pichler on June 28, 2017 at 7:47 AM

A 2013 report by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce indicates that 30 percent of the job openings through 2020 will require some college or an associate’s degree. Unfortunately, many of these well-paying jobs will go unfilled as there is a critical shortage of skilled technical graduates at the two-year Associate's Degree and one-year certificate level in fields such as Electronics, Industrial Robotics, Healthcare, and Advanced Manufacturing Technology.

Vocational TrainingTexas Community Colleges now offer free job training for those in certain circumstances and who qualify. Also, military veterans now can have free training in Advanced Manufacturing Technology in those community colleges which offer such a program. The program is paid by the Texas Workforce Commission, the state employment agency.

In Indiana, the state’s newly enacted Workforce Ready Grant (SEA 198-2017) will soon allow Hoosier adults (18-55) to obtain a high-wage, high-demand certificate through Ivy Tech Community College or Vincennes University. Eligible individuals who have not completed education and training beyond high school will be able to obtain training beginning this Fall in the following high-demand industry sectors: 1) Advanced Manufacturing, 2) Business & Construction, 3) Health & Life Sciences, 4) IT & Business Services, and 5) Transportation & Logistics.

Kentucky is similarly seeking to help residents who have not yet earned an associate's degree afford an industry-recognized certificate or diploma. Applicants for the Work Ready Kentucky Scholarship must be accepted or enrolled in a qualifying program in health care, advanced manufacturing, transportation/logistics, business services/IT, and construction. This last dollar scholarship is currently accepting applications for the 2017-18 year and limits the maximum award to the in-state tuition and fees rate for full-time enrollment at the Kentucky Community and Technical College System.

Tennessee continues to be the national leader in making technical and community colleges tuition-free. They now have two programs to do so – Tennessee Promise for recent high school graduates and Tennessee Reconnect for those who have not been enrolled in college for at least two years.

Earlier this year, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and the state’s legislature significantly expanded a program that offered free tuition to students who enrolled in the state’s technical college so long as they have been a resident of Tennessee for at least one year, are considered independent in FAFSA, have an adjusted gross income of less than $36,000 per year, and have already completed thirty hours of college credit.

The revised Tennessee Reconnect criteria includes: not already having an associate or bachelor degree; being a Tennessee resident for at least one year preceding the date of application for the grant; completion of the FAFSA and designation as an independent student; admission in an eligible postsecondary institution; enrollment in a degree or certificate program at least part time (6 semester hours) beginning with the 2018-19 year; and participation in an advising program approved by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.

These developments on the state-level are refreshing as these well-paying jobs have been largely ignored by policy makers and others who view a four-year college degree as the sole ticket to the middle class. According to a 2012 report by Achieve, a nonprofit education organization focused on college and career readiness, middle skills jobs — which generally require workers to have some education and training beyond their high school diploma but less than a bachelor’s degree — “allow workers to earn better than average wages.”   

I hope other states follow in their footsteps by focusing #freecollegenow on community college and state technical-vocational schools.



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