Free college grows as Arkansas, Indiana, Montana, Rhode Island join in

Think “free” tuition sounds unrealistic? It’s already a reality in more than 20 states.

Earlier this year, Arkansas, Indiana, Montana and Rhode Island introduced statewide free community-college programs. Other states, including Minnesota, Oregon and Tennessee, already have programs, and 13 more introduced legislation this year to start similar initiatives, according to Dustin Weeden, a senior policy specialist at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Meanwhile, New York’s Excelsior Scholarship is the first in the nation to cover four years of tuition without being tethered to academic performance.

The scholarship applies to all schools at City and State University of New York (CUNY and SUNY, respectively). New York says more than 940,000 middle-class families and individuals making up to $125,000 per year will qualify when the program completes its three-year phase-in in 2020.

“Today, college is what high school was — it should always be an option even if you can’t afford it,” Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a press release.

To be eligible for the Excelsior scholarship, students need to:
Be New York State residents.
Attend a SUNY or CUNY two- or four-year program.
Take 30 credits per calendar year (including January and summer sessions).
Plan to live and work in New York following graduation for at least as long as the time they participate in the scholarship program.

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