Ideas Worth Stealing: Free Community College Finds Bipartisan Support

Dec 23, 2016


Octavia Coaks poses for a portrait at the Olive-Harvey College library in Chicago in 2015. The idea of free community college has been touted by Democrats and Republicans. Chicago offers the Star Scholarship. The idea is to curb student debt and boost employment by removing cost from the equation. But offering free community college isn't supported by everyone.
Credit Charles Rex Arbogast / AP file photo

During the 2016 presidential primaries, candidate Senator Bernie Sanders proposed an ambitious plan to make state colleges and universities tuition-free. On the campaign trail, the Democrat from Vermont spoke about how increased access to higher education would improve the nation's workforce. 

The idea didn't gain much political support (though it was very popular amongst his supporters). The consensus seemed to be that free college tuition was a good idea, but the chance of actually getting it funded would be next to impossible. 

Meanwhile, in one deep red state and one bright blue city, a similar initiative wasn't just being thrown around as a political football. It was happening. Both Tennessee and Chicago provide two years of community college for residents who meet certain qualifications — tuition free. 


Keystone Crossroads is a statewide public media initiative reporting on the challenges facing Pennsylvania's cities. WPSU is a participating station.