Dive Brief:

  • The president of the Massachusetts Senate on Wednesday called for community college to be free in the state, according to local media reports. 
  • Karen Spilka, a Democrat, began the new legislative session by proposing tuition-free associate degrees for residents. She argued that making higher education more accessible could help Massachusetts strengthen its workforce and shrink its racial wealth gap, WBUR reported.
  • Spilka did not get into policy details during her speech. But she intends to draft legislation on the issue this session, a spokesperson told WPRI.

Dive Insight:

More than half of states offer some form of free community college to their residents. Some impose income limitations for eligibility or require enrolled students to maintain a specific GPA or number of credit hours.

In Massachusetts, senators may be poised to support the idea. Spilka’s speech led to applause from the overwhelmingly Democratic chamber, WBUR reported. 

A 2022 poll of U.S. residents and parents from Education Next, an education research journal, found that 84% of Democrats support making community college free, compared to 44% of Republicans. 

It’s not clear how much a free community college program would cost the state. Annual tuition and mandatory fees for Massachusetts community colleges in the 2023 fiscal year range from $6,300 at Bunker Hill Community College to $7,560 at Middlesex Community College.  

State and local governments are increasingly taking the lead in the movement for free college, after a federal push stagnated in February.

The same month, Democratic Gov. Janet Mills proposed a one-time $20 million investment in Maine’s community college system to allow those who graduated from high school from 2020 to 2023 to earn an associate degree or one-year credential for free. The legislature approved the plan last year, resulting in the Free College Scholarship.

And in March, New Mexico made college free for most residents by designating $75 million for the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship Act. The scholarship program covers full tuition and course-specific fees at the state’s public colleges. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office has called it the most wide-reaching tuition-free program in the country.