Research News

Efforts supported by Goldrick-Rab to make college more affordable gaining traction

July 09, 2015

With bipartisan support, the state legislature in Oregon earlier this month passed a bill ensuring that if eligible students apply for federal grants for community college, the state will cover the remainder of their tuition.

As a report explains: “To qualify, students must have applied for the state and federal aid grants available to them, lived in Oregon for at least one year, and maintained a grade point average of at least 2.5. They also must enroll in community college within six months of completing their high school degree or its equivalent. The program could have wide-reaching effects in Oregon, since there are roughly 70,000 Oregonians between the ages of 18 and 24 who have a high school education but no opportunity for post-secondary schooling, according to testimony from state Senator Mark Hass.”

Sara Goldrick-Rab
UW-Madison’s Sara Goldrick-Rab in February testified to Oregon’s Senate Committee on Education in favor of a bill that waived community college tuition for some students.

An Inside Higher Education blog post July 5 examining the passage of the Oregon bill noted the similarities to the Oregon legislation and proposals made by Goldrick-Rab.

Writes Inside Higher Ed blogger Matt Reed: "(The Oregon bill) owes a lot to Sara Goldrick-Rab’s F2CO proposal from a couple of years ago, with a few tweaks to make it fit Oregon’s budget. The relative simplicity of the policy -- fifty bucks a course -- makes it an easy sell to students and families who are understandably wary of student loans. Assuming a 60 credit degree and three credits per class, that’s 20 classes at 50 bucks a pop, for a total of $1,000 for the first two years of college. If you’re taking a “terminal” degree or certificate with direct workforce applicability, then you’re getting a potentially significant lifetime wage bump for a thousand dollars. If you’re transferring, you’ll almost certainly start your junior year without debt.”

It was back in April 2014 when Goldrick-Rab and UW-Madison colleague Nancy Kendall co-authored a paper titled, “Redefining College Affordability: Securing America’s Future with a Free Two-Year College Option.” In it, these faculty members with the Department of Educational Policy Studies proposed making two years of community college or public four-year college -- plus stipends and work-study jobs to cover living expenses -– free.

Reed continues:   “As the ad used to say, if you can find a better deal, take it.   From a student perspective, the program’s flaws are minor. Unlike Goldrick-Rab’s original proposal, it doesn’t include support for living expenses, books, and the like, so actual costs are higher than fifty bucks a class. I’m guessing the fifty bucks per class will be out-of-pocket, which could cause issues for some students, but a college with a forward-looking foundation -- hint, hint -- could easily make that up for students with hardships. Many students require more than sixty credits to graduate, given remediation, ESL needs, and/or stopouts. And adult students are out of luck, at least for the time being. Though I wouldn’t be surprised to see the program expand its reach if it proves successful.”

Goldrick-Rab is a professor of educational policy studies and sociology, and is the director and founder of the Wisconsin HOPE Lab, which is housed in the School of Education and is the only laboratory in the nation dedicated to translational research for improving equitable outcomes in postsecondary education.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday Democrats in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives introduced bills that seek to make tuition free for those attending community college. For now, however, the proposal -– called America’s College Promise Act -- lacks any Republican backing, so the bills are not likely to go anywhere.

In June, Goldrick-Rab was in Washington, D.C., to share her thoughts about making college more affordable. The event Goldrick-Rab took part in was called, “The Affordability Crisis: Rescuing the Dream of College Education for the Working-Class and Poor.” It included a talk by Sen. Elizabeth Warren and a panel discussion with education experts, and was organized by the Shanker Institute and the American Federation of Teachers.

Goldrick-Rab also is a Senior Scholar at the Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education and an affiliate of the Institute for Research on Poverty, Center for Financial Security, La Follette School of Public Affairs, and the Wisconsin Center for Education Research.