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The Hechinger Report – ‘Free College’ programs sound great – but who gets excluded?

‘Free college’ programs sound great – but who gets excluded?

Many states have so many restrictions that the students who need free college most can’t get it

At a time when higher education is in constant flux – some of it is online, some of it is in person with students at a social distance, some of it is in hybrid form – at least one part remains constant: It’s expensive. Theaverage cost of tuition and fees at a four-year, nonprofit, private institution was $36,900 in 2019-2020 for a full-time student. For an in-state student at a public institution, it was $10,400.

Numbers like these could make any student or family inquire about free-college programs. And they sound great in politicians’ speeches, too. But upon closer examination, many of these programs exclude students who could most benefit from them, according to a new report from The Education Trust, a nonprofit organization that advocates for historically underserved students.

Rules about how old the student is permitted to be or how many credithours can be taken, for example, create unforeseen challenges, said Tiffany Jones, Education Trust’s senior director of higher education policy. And few programs cover costs like books or transportation.

These programs may be popular, Jones said, “but they don’t always have the support they need politically to invest the dollars necessary to actually make college more affordable for the students who struggle the most to pay. So one of the ways they’re able to reduce the scope and the cost is by limiting who gets it.”

Jones said there may be hundreds of local programs across the country that cover college costs, but many are more akin to merit scholarships or are reserved for certain disciplines. Ed Trust wanted to find out which programs were broad and accessible, she said. The researchers examined only free-college programs that are state-funded, allow anyone in the state to enroll, cover tuition costs at two-year or four-year institutions, don’t require a minimum ACT score of 20 or a 3.0 GPA, and were launched by July 2020. The last point is noteworthy, Jones said, because a state may have wanted an expansive free-college program but been prevented from starting one by the pandemic. Ed Trust focused on programs that had been underway for at least one cohort of students.

There were 23 statewide programs, ranging from California to Rhode Island, that met Ed Trust’s criteria. (In 2018, when Ed Trust last reported on statewide free-college programs, only 15 met their benchmarks.) Some states even have more than one program. But of the 23 programs, 13 exclude students who want to enroll part-time, 11 don’t allow undocumented students to enroll and 14 don’t cover any living costs.

“The last thing you want to do is some sort of bait and switch, where students were under the impression that college was free, they did all the things, they enrolled and then they’re getting billed and they don’t understand why.”

Tiffany Jones, senior director of higher education policy, The Education Trust

Only the Washington College Grant program was fully inclusive, according to the report. It allows for students who are undocumented, part-time, returning and those in the criminal justice system; it also applies to students in registered apprenticeships. Plus, the program covers at least four years of tuition and living costs.

Because most free college programs focus on community colleges, it’s important that they cover expenses beyond tuition, Jones said.

“Community colleges do not have a tuition problem,” she said. “Community college students struggle to pay because of all of the other costs, and those costs make up about 80 percent of the full cost of attendance.”

Another reason the Washington College Grant program stands out is that it garnered support outside of local government, Jones said. It was enacted as part of the state’s Workforce Education Investment Act, which Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law in 2019.

“The program will be funded by businesses that will pay an additional surcharge on the current business and occupation tax that they already pay,” according to a Medium post from the governor’s office. “This means larger firms such as Amazon and Microsoft — companies that boast a high demand for an educated workforce — shouldering more of the financial burden.”

While it’s hard to pinpoint a perfect free-college program, many excel at enrolling low-income, underrepresented minority students.

In a study of 33 free-college programs at community colleges, first-time, full-time enrollment for Black, Latino and female students increased at a higher rate in these programs than at nearby institutions without this offering. Compared to the seven nearest community colleges, those with a free-college program saw a 47 percent greater enrollment of Black men and a 51 percent greater enrollment of Black women, according to results published this week in the journal Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis.

Because it’s clear that free-college programs attract underrepresented students, Jones said it’s critical that policymakers focus on making sure the programs can really meet the needs of these students.

“The last thing you want to do is some sort of bait and switch, where students were under the impression that college was free, they did all the things, they enrolled and then they’re getting billed and they don’t understand why,” she said.

This story about free college programs was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news outlet focused on innovation and inequality in education. To view and visit Hechinger Report, follow the link below.

4 Ways Leaders Can Keep Learning This Year (And Every Year!)

4 Ways Leaders Can Keep Learning This Year (And Every Year!)

Author Sean Morris:

Leadership isn’t a rank you achieve. It’s a skill you constantly hone. And for community leaders in charge of a job so important as creating pathways for youth to walk in success, perfecting your leadership is a job that’s never done. Whether it’s becoming a better communicator, refining your youth engagement skills, or improving your personal habits, there’s always more to learn to become a better leader. For Operation New Hope mentors and anyone else who wants to improve their community leadership skills, these learning opportunities are a great place to start.

Hone Your Soft Leadership Skills

Soft skills are key for all leaders, but especially those who work with youth. Use these tips from Forbes to improve your soft skills and become a stronger leader in the process.

  • Build better personal habits. Whether it’s learning to stay calm in stressful situations or improving your time management skills, constant self-improvement is key for anyone in a leadership position.
  • Become a better listener. Listening helps leaders gain trust from the people they serve as well as learn useful insights to inform their leadership role.
  • Assess your emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is where a leader’s people skills come from, and it’s an essential soft skill for today’s leaders.
  • Not sure where you need to improve? Ask for feedback. Honest feedback is difficult to ask for, but it’s an essential step for personal and professional growth.

Read Books About Leadership

For a big picture look at what it means to lead — along with plenty of practical tips — turn to books from leadership experts like Brené Brown and Stephen R. Covey. These four books will help you change your habits and mindset as a leader.

  • The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations, by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, examines case studies to extract the practices necessary for successful leadership.
  • Covey’s 1989 best-seller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, details seven ethics that leaders should follow in order to manifest their vision.
  • Brené Brown has several outstanding books on leadership, including the popular Dare to Lead: Brave Work, Tough Conversations, Whole Hearts, which explores themes of courage and vulnerability in leadership.
  • Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done, by author Laura Vanderkam, is a must-read for anyone who struggles to juggle the demands of leadership and everyday life.

Listen to Podcasts That Inspire You

Whether you need motivation to keep going in a challenging role or tips on becoming your best self, podcasts are the perfect resource. Listen to these motivational podcasts for bite-sized information and actionable tips from expert guests across all types of fields.

  • The School of Greatness is a podcast designed to inspire you to greatness with high-profile guests and techniques for dreaming bigger and making an impact.
  • Can you change your life by changing your mindset? That’s the question that hosts Kathryn Bryant and Julian Illman explore in Changeability, a weekly self-improvement podcast that you can consume in under an hour.
  • The Art of Charm from hosts AJ and Jordan Harbinger offers tips on charisma, connection, and self-improvement from a wide variety of professionals, authors, and coaches.
  • For quick tips and insights, listen to Where There’s Smoke from Brett Gajda and Nick Jaworski. This podcast covers topics like gratitude, willpower, and criticism with actionable tips to help you improve.

Attend Online Courses in Leadership

Self-directed learning is great for digging into leadership concepts, but when you want to perfect a particular skill, look to guided lessons. Luckily, you don’t have to spend much to find educational content online thanks to massive online open courses, or MOOCs. Here’s what to know before enrolling in your first MOOC.

  • Many MOOCs can be audited at no cost, but you may need to pay in order to earn a certificate or credential. Paid access also comes with additional features like instructor feedback.
  • Some platforms, like edX and Coursera, even offer degree programs. These degrees are flexible and affordable compared to traditional degrees.
  • You don’t have to pay to access high-quality content, however. Many MOOCs are developed in coordination with top universities, including Ivy League universities like Harvard and Columbia University.


Learning can be formal or informal, take a few minutes or a few months. What’s more important than how you learn as a leader is that you keep learning. By constantly striving for self-improvement, you can rest assured that you’re giving your best to the community you serve.




Youth Reinvestment Graduation Cohort #2

Our San Bernardino City Youth Reinvestment Program Cohort #2 Graduation.
Proud of these young men & women who selflessly gave back to their community: weekly providing 300 families groceries, cleaning up downtown San Bernardino, & completed 14 weeks of life skills, leadership development, & career readiness workshops.  The future is bright for these young men & women.
Thank you California Board of Community Corrections
for the opportunity to collaborate to restore youth & our communities. Huge Shout out to City of San Bernardino Violence Intervention Program Director Mr. Mirranda for your Dynamic Leadership.



Upcoming Webinars

Nikole Hannah-Jones on intersection of race and public education

Wednesday, Aug. 26, 10-11 am: The Partnership for Los Angeles Schools will feature Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, creator of The 1619 Project, in conversation with educators about the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and 400+ years of anti-Black racism and oppression. Participating with her will be moderator Ryan Smith, Partnership for Los Angeles Schools and LA Unified teachers Jorge Lopez and Ginger Stemnock. Space is limited; go here to register.

Navigating remote learning: a webinar for K-8 families
Wednesday, Aug. 26, noon to 1 pm: Denise Pope, a senior lecturer at the Stanford University Graduate School of Education who specializes in student engagement, will present practical tips and guidelines on what families can do to best support student well-being and engagement with learning, along with balancing home and work responsibilities. Q&A will follow; the webinar will not be recorded. Go here to register.

Series for administrators, teachers on English Learner Roadmap
Californians Together is hosting a series of webinars EL RISE for teachers and administrators on the statewide implementation of the English Learner Roadmap Implementation for System Excellence. Write Margarita Gonzalez-Amador with questions.

Series for administrators will be from 4 to 5:30 pm on Tuesdays. Go here to register.

Aug. 25 – Reopening schools: embracing English learners
Sept. 29 – Supporting families and knitting strong home school partnerships:

Series for teachers will run from 2:30 to 4:30 pm and will be on distance learning. Go here to register.

Wed, Sept. 2 or 9 – Welcoming, inclusive and affirming classrooms
Wed, Sept. 16 or 23 – Critical conditions in distance learning
Thur, Sept. 24 or 30 – Creating and sustaining family partnership in distance learning.


Advocacy and Collaborative Health Care for Justice-Involved Youth
 Mikah C. Owen, Stephenie B. Wallace and COMMITTEE ON ADOLESCENCE

Children and adolescents who become involved with the justice system often do so with complex medical, mental health, developmental, social, and legal needs. Most have been exposed to childhood trauma or adversity, which both contribute to their involvement with the justice system and negatively impact their health and well-being. Whether youth are held in confinement or in their home communities, pediatricians play a critical role in promoting the health and well-being of justice-involved youth. Having a working knowledge of the juvenile justice system and common issues facing justice-involved youth may help pediatricians enhance their clinical care and advocacy efforts. This policy statement is a revision of the 2011 policy “Health Care for Youth in the Juvenile Justice System.” It provides an overview of the juvenile justice system, describes racial bias and over representation of youth of color in the justice system, reviews the health and mental health status of justice-involved youth, and identifies advocacy opportunities for juvenile justice reform.

Advocacy and Collaborative Health Care for Justice-Involved Youth


Prison to Employment

Operation New Hope is one of seven community based organizations contracted by San Bernardino County and Riverside County Workforce Development Boards to deliver the Prison to Employment services.

The Corrections Workforce Partnership Agreement is intended to strengthen linkages between the state workforce and corrections systems in order to improve the process by which the formerly incarcerated and justice-involved* individuals reenter society and the labor force. The Prison to Employment Initiative was a grant program that included in the Governor’s 2018 Budget proposal and includes $37 million over three budget years to operationalize integration of workforce and reentry services in the state’s 14 labor regions. The goal is to improve labor market outcomes by creating a systemic and ongoing partnership between rehabilitative programs within California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and the state workforce system by bringing CDCR under the policy umbrella of the State Workforce Plan.

* “Justice-involved” refers to individuals who are on parole, probation, mandatory supervision, or post-release community supervision and are supervised by, or are under the jurisdiction of, a county or the CDCR.

California releases approximately 36,000 people from the state prison each year, a portion of whom have received in-prison job-training rehabilitative services such as Career Technical Education (CTE) or have participated in programs operated by the California Prison Industry Authority (CalPIA). Concurrently, California manages federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) funds through its State Workforce Plan developed by the California Workforce Development Board (State Board), and implemented by Local Workforce Development Boards (Local Boards) across the state.

While there is some, often informal, coordination between these two systems there is no formal, sustained, and systemic, relationship between them. Some reentry and workforce programs have been created to target certain subpopulations of the state’s supervised population, as discussed below, and while these programs have provided good data and lessons learned, an ongoing marriage of the two systems is needed to better integrate services operating in isolation, and to fill gaps and provide holistic and long-term outcomes to reduce recidivism.

As part of Governor Brown’s efforts to improve California’s criminal and juvenile justice systems and reduce recidivism through increased rehabilitation, the State Board, CDCR, CalPIA, and California Workforce Association (CWA) have finalized a partnership agreement which is included in amendments to the California WIOA Unified Strategic Workforce Development Plan 2016-2020.

The partnership agreement will better link education, job training, and work experience in prison to post-release jobs by fostering a system of coordinated service delivery to a population that faces a variety of barriers. It serves as a blueprint for building local and regional partnerships to improve labor market outcomes and reduce recidivism. Policy strategies outlined in this agreement include:

  1. Sector Strategies
  2. Career Pathways
  3. Organizing Regionally
  4. Earn and Learn
  5. Supportive Services
  6. Integrated Service Delivery and Braided Resources
  7. Building Cross-System Data Capacity

The partnership agreement will inform policies specific to California’s 14 Labor Regions, 45 Local Workforce Development Boards, and 200 contracted America’s Job Centers of California (AJCCs), and how they serve the state’s formerly incarcerated and justice-involved population.               

The partnership agreement and Prison to Employment Initiative build off of existing grants and initiatives administered by the State Board that targets the formerly incarcerated and justice-involved population. These programs include Workforce Accelerator Fund, ForwardFocus: AB 2060 Supervised Population Workforce Training, and Proposition 39 Pre-Apprenticeship. This new approach takes the best of the existing initiatives; and integrates these into systemic and ongoing change through the development of regional plans to coordinate service delivery based on local labor conditions, resources, and partners.

*content from CA Workforce Development Board