Spring Brings Green Shoots of Promise in New England

Posted by Morley Winograd on June 29, 2022 at 9:59 AM

Earlier this year, Maine Governor Mill’s program to provide high school students impacted by the pandemic with free college tuition passed the legislature, turning the most north-eastern state in the country a nice shade of green.

The program will cover two years of tuition at Maine community colleges for anyone who graduated or is scheduled to graduate high school in 2020, 2021, 2022 or 2023, including current community college students and students who earned a GED. To qualify, students must be full-time students in an associate degree or one-year credential program and live in Maine while enrolled.

The number of new students who have registered at the state’s Central Maine Community College and put down deposits rose about 20 percent compared to this time last year. It’s associate dean of enrollment management is hopeful the college can soon return to its peak enrollment of approximately 3,200 students experienced just before the pandemic. “I think this free college scholarship is the shot in the arm that we needed,” Andrew Morong wryly noted.

Last year, Vermont’s democratic legislature and its Republican Governor agreed to make tuition free to any one of any age who wanted to pursue an Associate Degree or certificate at the Community College of Vermont (CCV) who earned less than $50,000 a year in response to the pandemic’s impact on employment levels in the state. The 802 Opportunity program made the benefit available to students starting in the fall of 2021 through the Spring 2023 semester. Governor Phil Scott has proposed adding $1.5 million in funding to expand eligibility to Vermonters with a family adjusted Income of less than $75,000.

We hope both Vermont’s and Maine’s time-limited programs will be so popular that their future state legislatures will make the programs permanent. That’s what happened in 2021, when the Rhode Island state legislature made its extraordinarily popular Promise program, originally proposed by then Governor, now Commerce Secretary, Raimondo, a permanent state program and named it in her honor. Connecticut’s state legislature also continued to improve the scope and scale of its free college tuition program last year, ensuring its continued existence.

Those two states were the pioneers of the idea of free college tuition in the New England region, highlighted by CFCT’s holding its national state elected officials workshop in Providence in 2018.

Massachusetts has also taken advantage of new federal money and an evolving political dynamic in the state to significantly enhance their free college tuition program. The MASSGrant Plus program was established in 2018 to provide Massachusetts residents with unmet financial need a last dollar scholarship to cover community college tuition and mandatory fees. In 2020, program eligibility was expanded to include full-time Pell-eligible students enrolled in one of the Commonwealth’s four-year comprehensive state universities or specialized colleges. Starting this fall, eligibility will be expanded yet again to include full-time Pell-eligible University of Massachusetts students.

The expansion earned Massachusetts a light green color on our Momentum Map, leaving only New Hampshire without some form of free college tuition at their higher education institutions. The first seeds planted at our Providence workshop in 2018 have sprouted green shoots throughout New England that promise to provide thousands of students with a beautiful opportunity to get the higher education experience they will need to be successful throughout their lifetime.

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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.