The Fastest-Growing Policy Idea to Produce Qualified Workers? Free Tuition

It’s no secret that Maryland’s sixteen community colleges are grossly underfunded by the State. In fact, Maryland is nearly $1,000 below the national average for state support of community colleges.

The fastest-growing policy idea in the country to produce qualified workers? Free tuition. In Maryland, six community colleges offer College Promise programs: Garrett College (2006), Allegany College (2015), Hagerstown Community College (2017), Wor-Wic Community College (2016), Prince George’s Community College (2017), and Baltimore City Community College (fall of 2018).

Maryland has been mulling over a statewide College Promise program for three years. Meanwhile, there are now over two-hundred College Promise programs in communities across forty-one states, including six statewide programs.

The John R. Cade Funding Formula

Source: Maryland Association of Community Colleges

State funding of Maryland’s community colleges is based on the Senator John R. Cade funding formula which was established as law in 1996. The Cade funding formula was created to provide community colleges with predictable support for operations, and to provide students with affordable tuition.

Recognizing that all of public higher education has an obligation to work together to educate students and prepare a qualified workforce, the Cade formula calculates state support for community colleges as a percentage of state support for designated University System of Maryland institutions, per full-time equivalent (FTE) student. The intent of the Cade formula is that community college costs be divided into equal thirds between the state, local government, and student tuition/fees. Unfortunately, due to budgetary constraints over the years, the Cade funding goal has typically not been met.

The original intent of the Cade funding formula was for the State to provide 29% of community college funding by 2012. However, the State has adjusted the formula seven times in the last ten years – delaying its commitment to fully fund the Cade formula.

Source: Maryland Association of Community Colleges

Maryland counties have consistently supported full funding of the State’s Cade formula to fund community colleges. The formula represents the appropriate state share of the three-part state-county-student partnership to support community college offerings. When state funding for community colleges lags, additional pressure builds on county budgets and on student tuition. County governments currently provide 38% of funding for Maryland’s community colleges. Student tuition and fees cover 40% of the costs.


Free Community College?

In a piece featured in, columnist Barry Rascovar argues that “instead of holding the line on state aid to these public institutions, Maryland leaders should be aggressively increasing state support.”

According to the column:

This year, a Senate bill has made it halfway through the legislature to create a free-tuition program for most community college students. But the clock is ticking every day toward the General Assembly’s April 9 adjournment date.

That bill would cost $31 million, starting in 2020. It would be another legislative mandate placed on the governor, but it could move Maryland forcefully into the top tier of states promoting workforce development through their community colleges. Nine other states already have similar free-tuition programs.

It’s pretty much a given that graduates of Maryland’s four-year colleges and universities will wind up in good jobs with upwardly mobile careers.

But what about all the other high school graduates in Maryland? Only the community colleges offer them a road to a better tomorrow.

That’s why it is so perplexing neither Hogan nor legislative leaders have singled out these public colleges for priority funding initiatives. It is a tragic oversight that stands in the way of preparing Maryland’s entire workforce for the evolving job demands of the next generation.

The free tuition trend started in 2005 in Kalamazoo, Michigan, which launched the effort to combat its economic woes. The movement has quickly spread: Today approximately 200 localities offer residents free tuition to local community colleges and technical schools.

In the past two years, twelve states have enacted similar legislation. The state rush to offer free tuition began with Tennessee in 2015, but other states quickly followed suit. Arkansas, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, New York, Oregon and Rhode Island have enacted programs, and Nevada plans to launch one this year. California and Montana last year enacted legislation to create programs but have yet to appropriate funds.

Delaware and Louisiana offer more restrictive free college scholarships with additional requirements, such as a minimum college aptitude test score or a clean record.

Free tuition plans typically promise students free tuition if they meet certain requirements, such as maintaining a certain GPA. Most plans only pay for tuition, so students must cover fees, books, and other costs.

Most of the programs are “last dollar,” which means a student must obtain and exhaust all federal aid, such as Pell Grants or other scholarships before the program kicks in to cover the rest.

The Maryland General Assembly is considering three bills that aim to implement a statewide College Promise program in Maryland.

MACo did not take a position on any of the College Promise bills.