4 states offer free community college — now a fifth could join their ranks

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It’s no secret that we have a skills gap in the United States. Millions of high-paying jobs go unfilled because employers can’t find workers with the right training.

Well, several states have already stepped up to do their part to end this problem.

Their solution? Expanding access to free education at community colleges.

Now it looks like their idea is catching on as a fifth state weighs a proposal to make two-year state schools free for low-income students.

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New Jersey could be the latest to offer free college

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy is moving ahead with his idea to make community college free for everyone in the Garden State by 2021.

To achieve that goal, Murphy wants $50 million for a grant-based program that would let families with income below $45,000 send their kids to community college at no cost.

The proposal, which has not yet been approved, would direct $45 million toward grants and another $5 million to the state’s 19 community colleges so they can staff up to deal with increased enrollments.

An estimated 15,000 students are expected to take advantage of the deal immediately if it gets passed.

This proposed idea is the first step in a “multi-year phase-in” that the governor says is necessary to have entirely free community college for everyone in New Jersey.


Meanwhile, four other states have already tread the ground New Jersey is now considering.

Precedent for free community college in other states

Back in 2014, Tennessee governor Bill Haslam came up with a plan called Tennessee Promise that allowed all high school graduates in the state to attend two-year community colleges or technical schools for free.

CNN Money reports the following eligibility requirements apply in the Tennessee program:

  • Must be a state resident for one full year before applying
  • Must maintain a 2.0 GPA
  • Must enroll as a part-time student
  • Must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

More recently, a sister plan called Tennessee Reconnect expanded the initial program to include all adult residents of the state in the free tuition offer — not just graduating seniors.

That made Tennessee the first state in the nation to offer community college free to all citizens ‘ both high school grads and adults.

Best of all, the expansion of the program in Tennessee came at no cost to taxpayers; it’s entirely funded by the state lottery.

Other states have since jumped on the free community college bandwagon. They include Rhode Island, New York and Oregon.

How to get in-state tuition as an out-of-state student

The plans in place for residents of the four states that do offer free community college are great — if you’re a resident.

But what if you’re not?

Turns out you’re not entirely out of luck! There could be a similar opportunity for you.


Academic Common Market

If there’s a specialized field you want to study, did you know it’s possible to study at an out-of-state college and still pay in-state tuition rates?

It’s called the Academic Common Market and is a consortium of more than a dozen states that each have reciprocity with each other.

For example, a student from Georgia could study at a Texas state school and still pay in-state tuition even if his or her family lives in the Peach State.

Participating states in the Academic Common Market include:

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maryland
  • Mississippi
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia

Give this program a look and see if it meets your needs!

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