Free college, a catchall term for a range of affordability plans, is increasingly seen as a solution. Nearly 20 states now promise some version of free college, from Tennessee’s free community college program to New York’s Excelsior Scholarship, which offers up to four years of free tuition at state schools for residents with family incomes below $125,000 a year.
But research on the effectiveness of state programs has been mixed. Critics say the offers are often undermined by limited funding and come with narrow eligibility rules that exclude many students.
“This is a problem that has not gone away but has gotten worse in many communities,” said Mark Huelsman, associate director of policy and research for Demos, a liberal think tank. “It’s enough of a problem that people expect some action on it, and they expect some plan for how to get there.”