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April 2, 2019

Report: 'Free' community college proposal could cost $10.6M

Photo | Contributed Students in an honors class at Middlesex Community College in Middletown.

A proposed program that would further subsidize tuition and fees for community-college students in Connecticut could cost as much as $10.6 million within the first two years, a new estimate says.

The price estimate filed Monday by the Office of Fiscal Analysis (OFA) for Senate Bill 273 -- An Act Concerning Debt-Free College -- estimates the costs in the first year of the proposed program would be between $3.7 million and $4.1 million, and $5.7 million to $6.5 million in the next year.

The program would provide grants that aim to wipe out any tuition and fees (which in 2018 averaged $4,300) students are currently paying, after all other federal, institutional and state aid. The minimum grant would be $500.

The program would be open to any in-state student who graduated from a Connecticut high school within two years of enrolling in community college for the first time. The money would only go to students who carry a full-time course load, maintain a 2.5 GPA, and fill out a key federal aid application called the FAFSA. There would be further limits on family income (family contribution to tuition and fees, as determined by the FAFSA, could not exceed $7,500).

The bill has made it out of committee, but hasn’t yet been acted on by the House or Senate.

More states are offering some form of free community college, aiming to bolster educational opportunities and economic competitiveness.

Like Connecticut’s proposal, most states free-college programs don’t cover living expenses. There’s an active debate about whether to allocate additional money to the lowest income students -- who are often already fully subsidized but struggle to graduate due to financial hardships -- or to spread the wealth further up the economic ladder to middle-class students.

Similar bill lays out “finish line” grants

Another bill that made it out of committee last month aims to offer similar grants, to both associate and bachelor’s degree seekers.

House Bill 7161 -- An Act Establishing Finish Line Grants -- would provide grants to UConn, four universities within the Connecticut State College and Universities system, 12 community colleges, and Charter Oak State College.

The eligibility requirements are similar to S.B. 273, but because the bill also adds four-year schools and degrees, the costs would be higher, according to OFA -- as much as $93.2 million in the first two years.

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