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Free Tuition: A Cautionary Tale

While the promise of free college is an intriguing idea, advocates should learn from the experience of a millionaire New York businessman. In 1981, Eugene Lang promised a sixth-grade class he would pay for their college education if they successfully graduated from high school. This promise later became the I Have a Dream Foundation.

While paying for college was paramount, Lang soon learned the promise of free college rings hollow for students attending schools in communities that do not provide the support they need to be college-ready.

Here in California, college tuition could one day be covered by the California College Promise Scholarship funded by lawmakers, the private sector, nonprofits and/or all of the above. Or, the state Legislature could act to fully fund the California State University and University of California, thereby eliminating the need for these systems to increase tuition and fees.

Whatever the future holds, Eugene Lang demonstrated that the guarantee of free college is a strong motivator for youth. But lawmakers should also invest in proven practices that prepare students to be college-ready when they get there.


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