‘Free’ doesn’t mean free in tuition

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As the call for tuition free education has gained momentum in recent months, so have the questions surrounding how to pay for “free” education.

“The money has to come from somewhere,” said Marc Thomason, owner of Thomason Navigations, a financial aid consulting business in Linden. “Nothing is really free.”

Some politicians think the answer is to raise taxes to subsidize tuition.

Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) introduced Assembly Bill 1356, which would add a one percent tax on household incomes of $1 million or more.

The revenue from the tax increase would be set aside in a special fund and used in conjunction with existing financial aid programs to cover the cost of tuition for in-state students.

“Shifting the burden from the student to the taxpayer doesn’t really address the true cost of college,” said Thomason. “When [financial aid] loans became easier to get, colleges started raising their rates because they could. Making taxpayers pay for it won’t change that.”

If AB 1356 passes through the legislature it will go on the ballot for voters in 2018.

Delta student Nick Vincent. “Ten hours a week [isn’t a] bad tradeoff.”

The downside is these schools typically don’t accept many applicants. Since one of the goals is to make higher education accessible, many in the free-tuition camp dismiss this model’s viability.

Enter the promise programs.

In 2005, an anonymous group of donors made a pledge to cover between 65 to 100 percent of college tuition for students graduating from any of the four public high schools in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Since then, more than two dozen communities across the country have started similar programs.

Some, like San Diego’s “Palomar Promise” program, have been launched via donations.

Delta College’s “Passport to College” program, which provided two years of tuition-free enrollment, was funded by a loan from the district to the Delta College Foundation. Funds collected from The Market at Delta College, formerly known as the Delta College flea market, are earmarked for paying off the loan in full, which, according to Delta College President/Superintendent Dr. Kathy Hart, should be “soon.”

Delta’s “Passport” program recently came to an end. However, with the Delta College Foundation maintaining control of The Market could it reemerge?

“There are no immediate plans to renew or revisit the Passport program, but there are many community colleges that are instituting these types of programs. I may begin talking with the foundation and others about some kind of program that would assist students in covering some of their costs for certificate/degree programs [at] Delta,” said Hart via an email interview.

Thomason said he hopes, for the student’s sake, this comes to fruition.

“Donations would probably be the best way to go for everyone, but you can’t really rely on those, at least not solely,” said Thomason. “Having that outside revenue stream that is earmarked for the aid fund is always going to help sustainability.”