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Gillian Hand – Youth Caucus of America
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latino college access yca article

Closing The Achievement Gap

Closing The Achievement Gap

Investing In The Educational Potential Of Latino Students


  • Support community and state organizations that provide resources and opportunities to Latino students throughout their educational journeys

  • Learn more about how you can get involved with LUCA here

By Gillian Hand

For many young adults across the country, higher education is often taken for granted. For teenagers in many underrepresented communities, however, this is not always the case. Latino students are a demographic facing a variety of obstacles to their education, often juggling numerous responsibilities while receiving minimal access to important information and resources. According to the United States Census Bureau, Latinos make up the largest minority group in the United States, expected to increase to 29% of the total population in 2060.[1] With an increase in the Latino student population correlated with this growth, high school dropout rates among Latino students are at an all-time low, with college enrollment increasing at a faster pace than any other ethnic group. However, the percentage of Latino students graduating with a college degree lags behind these otherwise encouraging figures.[2] Although one in four K-12 students is Latino, students in this demographic have produced lower records of educational attainment, indicating an uneven playing field that continues to compromise the opportunity and achievement of Latino youth.[3] 


A 2016 University of Minnesota study concluded that a third of the Latino student population grows up in poverty, with two-thirds coming from low-income households. This reality forces many young Latinos to play catch-up with other students around the country, embarking on their educational path already at a disadvantage.[4] Growing up in lower-income neighborhoods, these students often have to attend low-performing schools with less access to resources, support groups, and information. The skyrocketing student loan costs attributed to modern universities make it even more difficult for students to complete a degree at a post-secondary institution, often inhibiting them from pursuing higher education at all.[5]


In addition to these financial concerns, many Latino students are also the first in their family to seek a college education. The parents of first generation students often lack the time and knowledge needed to assist with the navigation of the college application and financial aid process, making it difficult for families to access the information and counseling needed to make informed college and career decisions.[6] Without needed support, these students struggle to find and pursue the best path toward higher education, keeping educational opportunity and achievement out of reach for far too many.


Another significant obstacle faced by Latino students is acculturation—the assimilation into American culture both in society and on campus. Latino youths frequently serve a far greater role in their households, often balancing responsibilities such as taking care of younger siblings and translating for parents who don’t speak English. In addition to these burdens that are uncommon among most other youth groups, many Latino young adults struggle to adjust to the new culture of the United States while they juggle the social and developmental challenges of growing up, often working to learn a new language themselves.[7] Numerous Latino students also face the psychological struggles of fearing for the safety of undocumented family members, burdens that stem from the Trump administration’s increasingly harsh policies toward immigration. In the modern political climate, Latino students often live in fear of deportation and worry that immigration services will gain information about their families, thus moving education even further out of reach.[8]


These obstacles to Latino students’ pursuit of higher education combine to produce the statistically disproportionate achievement gap. To even the playing field for this demographic of American society, federal and local efforts must prioritize educational services and provide these students with necessary academic opportunities and support. The National Education Association highlights an array of important steps that schools can take to improve opportunities for their Latino student population, including offering early childhood screenings for medical and social services, targeting resources on closing the gap, and providing stronger academic and social offerings such as tutors, mentors, role models, and peer support networks. Other essential changes include accessible adult education courses complemented with teachers and curriculums that “understand and capitalize on students’ culture, abilities, resilience, and effort”.[9]


One community organization aiming to address the achievement gap is Latino U College Access (LUCA), a non-profit agency serving first generation Latino students in Westchester County, New York. Encompassing the principles of education, advocacy, and collaboration, Latino U guides high school scholars and their families through the complicated college process, matching high-potential, low-income students with college coaches that help them navigate complex application and financial aid requirements. With opportunities such as essay and FAFSA workshops and networking with corporate partners and volunteers, LUCA exposes these promising students to educational and internship opportunities they never dreamed possible.[10] Latino U is just one example of a growing network of community-based efforts to invest in the potential of Latino students; going forward, similar organizations as well as school and state programming will be imperative in the movement to make higher education more accessible for this demographic.


Latino undergraduate enrollment has more than doubled in recent years, increasing from 22% to 37% between 2000 and 2015. Numerous institutions across the country have seen the development of new programs focused on broadening campus diversity such as the creation of Latino leadership programs, hiring more representative faculty, and expanding cultural programming.[11] However, there is still a long way to go until all Latino students receive the support they need to reach their educational potential. Policymakers should prioritize the creation and implementation of services that support Latino students, ensuring higher levels of college completion and educational achievement.



[1] Field, Kelly. “More Hispanics Are Going to College and Graduating, but Disparity Persists.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 14 May 2018,

[2] Krogstad, Jens Manuel, and Richard Fry. “Fewer Hispanic Young Adults 'Disconnected' from School, Jobs.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, 17 Aug. 2015,

[3] Field, “More Hispanics Are Going to College and Graduating, but Disparity Persists.”

[4] Davila, Silvia Alvarez de, and Cari Michaels . “Falling Behind: The Challenges Facing Latino Education in the U.S.” CEHD Vision 2020, Regents of the University of Minnesota, 28 Apr. 2016,

[5] Field, “More Hispanics Are Going to College and Graduating, but Disparity Persists.”

[6] Carnevale, Anthony P, and Megan L Fasules. “Latino Education and Economic Progress: Running Faster but Still Behind.” Executive Summary, Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, 2017,

[7] Alvarez de Davila and Michaels, “Falling Behind: The Challenges Facing Latino Education in the U.S.”

[8] Field, “More Hispanics Are Going to College and Graduating, but Disparity Persists.”

[9] “Strategies for Closing the Achievement Gaps.” NEA, National Education Association ,

[10] “Latino U College Access.” Latino U College Access, 20 Sept. 2019,

[11]  Field, “More Hispanics Are Going to College and Graduating, but Disparity Persists.”

student debt yca 2

Addressing The Student Debt Crisis

Student Debt: The Costs Behind Higher Education

Examining The Financial Burden Of "The Best Four Years Of Your Life"


By Gillian Hand

Despite the crucial role of education in American prosperity and individual success, numerous citizens who hope to attend college are discouraged by the threat of debilitating student debt. In fact, Americans currently owe $1.5 trillion in student loans, a continuously growing number that serves as a 350% increase from the debt levels in 2003.[1] While the government grapples with its vision for the alleviation of the crisis, states are pursuing their own plans of action, such as loan forgiveness programs and other forms of financial support. However, it is essential that these efforts are supported by federal reforms that give every citizen an opportunity to pursue higher education without the pressures of lifelong debt. The 2020 presidential election will undoubtedly be a battleground for discussions of student debt reform, with a wide field of potential Democratic nominees voicing their own proposals alongside criticisms of the current administration.

It can be incredibly difficult for students to escape the trap that is a student loan. Weak job opportunities for young graduates often result in these workers frequently struggling to make enough money to pay back their loans, keeping them confined by the crushing weight of student debts. Minority communities have been found to be particularly affected by the debt crisis, with many of these students being unable to pursue a higher education due to the inevitable loans that will follow them throughout their lives.[2] The student debt crisis threatens not only the future of the United States economy but also the financial security and freedom of Americans, 44 million of whom are currently trapped in the depths of this crisis.[3] It is crucial that lawmakers invest efforts and resources in the transformation of the student loan system by offering students an achievable and debt-free path to higher education.

        According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, lawmakers across the nation have set their sights on the student debt crisis. Recent state legislation has produced nearly 200 bills with a variety of debt solutions including loan forgiveness, priority of specific professions and new tax credits. 119 of these bills would create or expand student loan forgiveness programs, with many targeting specific professions in fields such as health care and education.[4] This legislation showcases how states are now taking the initiative in the alleviation of student debt, offering their own solutions in the absence of federal efforts. Should the nation fail to address the student debt crisis as it stands, the loans will only worsen, exacerbating the debt crisis and keeping millions of Americans from financial security and possibly higher education itself.

        In addition to these state reforms, there have also been efforts at the federal level to address this crisis.  The Trump administration recently released several proposed changes to the Higher Education Act, including the reduction of federal loan repayment options as well as the capping of the amount of student loans that parents and graduate students can take on.[5] The White House claims that schools are largely responsible for the student debt crisis, as colleges tend to drive up their tuitions and are often unwilling to work to make education more affordable. The schools themselves, however, argue that they are forced to raise tuition in the wake of funding reductions from state legislatures and insufficient support from the government. This call for greater federal support of institutions of higher education is echoed by many Democrats, including Senator Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the Senate Education Committee. Murray remarked that Trump’s plan does not address the true source of the problem: the skyrocketing college prices that burden students with massive amounts of debt. Murray also noted that the proposal would likely hurt citizens in the long run by reducing the amount of federal aid allocated for students.[6] 

        The Department of Education has also been active in the realm of student loans. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has proposed a plan calling for the termination of a Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program and the elimination of subsidized loans for low-income students. Currently, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program forgives remaining student debt sums after eligible workers make ten years of on-time payments, particularly helping public service professionals such as social workers, primary care doctors, public defenders, and teachers.[7] The Department under Devos has been attempting to repeal Obama-era policies, arguing that the student loan forgiveness programs under Obama are costly to taxpayers and unfair to colleges. While Devos and other conservatives find existing policies too lenient, federal courts have rebuffed these attempts thus far, forcing the Department to continue the programs.[8] Looking ahead, Devos has requested $130 million in next year’s budget to upgrade the student loan servicing system. Democrats, however, worry that this is not a step to help students afford higher education and pay back student loans but rather a gutting of financial aid money that will worsen the debt crisis in the long run.[9] 

        As we approach the 2020 presidential election, student debt remains a popular issue in the large field of potential Democratic nominees. Senators Elizabeth Warren, Kristen Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, and Cory Booker—all Democratic candidates for 2020—recently co-sponsored the Debt-Free College Act of 2019, which aims to offer federal funding to institutions that commit to helping students pay tuition without burdening them with staggering debt. Other candidates have voiced support for developments similar to Bernie Sanders’ “College for All Act”, which supports tuition-free college for low-income students. Some potential nominees are even drawing attention to Trump’s debt policies in order to highlight their own opposition to his administration, taking advantage of a key issue that might be popular with the Democratic base’s large population of young voters.[10] It is evident that student loan reform will play an important role in 2020 campaigns as Democratic candidates address these debt issues and condemn the deficiencies of the current administration.

        While there might not yet be a clear solution to the problem, steps should certainly be taken to support affected citizens by ensuring that money is not removed from programs designed to help them. There are many faces of the student debt crisis and numerous shortcomings with the higher education system itself; while state action is undeniably important, federal reform is needed to remove this primary barrier to education and financial security. Supporting federal efforts such as Senator Elizabeth Warren’s student debt relief plan will be essential in the alleviation of these enormous burdens, and advancements such as loan forgiveness programs are both necessary and possible. The movement to combat student debt and provide affordable education requires these federal standards as a base that will inspire state efforts going forward. The reform of student loans should be a priority in modern education policy and will play a crucial role in the presidential campaigns of 2020.


[1] Hess, Abigail. “Trump Administration Proposes Capping Student Loans, Cutting Repayment Options-Here's What That Means for Borrowers.” CNBC, NBC Universal , 20 Mar. 2019,

[2] Swig, Mary Green. “A Movement Emerges to Free Former Students from Crushing Loan Debts.” Common Dreams, 23 June 2018,

[3] “Our Story.” Our Story | Freedom to Prosper,

Stratford, Michael, et al. “Betsy DeVos Strikes out - in Court.” POLITICO, Politico LLC, 21 Mar. 2019,

[4] Stratford, Michael, et al. “Betsy DeVos Strikes out - in Court.” POLITICO, Politico LLC, 21 Mar. 2019,

[5] Hess, “Trump Administration Proposes Capping Student Loans, Cutting Repayment Options-Here's What That Means for Borrowers.”

[6] Binkley, Collin. “White House Proposes Caps on Student Loan Borrowing.” The Seattle Times, The Seattle Times Company, 18 Mar. 2019,

[7]Lobosco, Katie. “DeVos Wants to Cut Budget Funding for Student Loan Forgiveness, Again.” CNN, Cable News Network, 13 Mar. 2019,

[8] Stratford, “Betsy DeVos Strikes out - in Court.”

[9] Lobosco, “DeVos Wants to Cut Budget Funding for Student Loan Forgiveness, Again.”


[10] Norris, Courtney. “Where 2020 Democrats Stand on Student Loans, Teacher Pay and Other Education Issues.” PBS News Hour, Public Broadcasting Service, 15 Apr. 2019,

civic education article

Restoring Civics Education

Restoring Civics Education

Using Education To Create A Politically Informed And Engaged Population


  • Visit to support the efforts of the Civics Renewal Network, a group of 30 non-partisan organizations committed to advancing civics education and providing teachers with free, high-quality resources.

By Gillian Hand

Following an era of shockingly low political participation, activism, and awareness, we find ourselves in a fiercely polarized political climate. A study from the Pew Research Center found that only a third of Americans can name the three branches of the United States government, much less their functions and privileges.[1] It is evident that the American population suffers from extreme ignorance on the concepts of government, limiting the number of citizens who fulfill their civic duties and participate actively in our democracy. Although the 2016 election certainly launched an increase in youth activism, only 23% of eighth graders performed at or above the proficiency level on the National Assessment of Educational Progress civics exam, indicating that the lack of civic knowledge stems from the curriculum at local schools.[2] While STEM opportunities and courses are undeniably essential to youth education, their growing domination has pushed civics education aside, discontinuing equally important government-based educational offerings.[3] In this era of extreme polarization, it is crucial that schools across the nation prepare their students to become active citizens in American democracy by providing them with knowledge and abilities that will keep these future voters engaged throughout their lives.

        A key player in the push to create engaged and informed American citizens is the Civics Education Initiative. This program requires that all high school students pass a basic test about American history and politics with questions taken from the United States Citizenship Civics Test. By bringing civics back into the classroom, students could learn more about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, how the government is meant to operate, and the founding ideologies behind American values.[4] While the use of the citizenship test certainly has its merits, critics argue that the exam does not truly measure an individual’s comprehension of the material and creates another obstacle to graduation. Some states have instead opted to mandate civics classes, provide teachers with specific curricula, designate community service as a graduation requirement, or make Advanced Placement classes more available to the student population.[5] The Civics Education Initiative highlights various factors that have essentially functioned as roadblocks to effective civics education at the school level. Beyond the widespread emphasis on STEM education, the Initiative highlights the growth of standardized testing as another opponent to civics; because standard testing has become a popular method of measuring performance, teachers are prompted to prioritize the exam material in their teaching, pushing civics courses and lessons aside.[6]

Colorado, for example, demonstrates the true value of comprehensive civics education in schools. The only statewide graduation requirement in Colorado is to complete a government and civics course, and schools offer a variety of initiatives such as “Judicially Speaking,” a program that teaches students about the role of the judicial branch in American politics, to fulfill this requirement. The Colorado Department of Education does its part by providing teachers with course guidelines and resources, helping them instruct students on topics including the structure of the government, responsibilities of citizenship, and methods of public participation.[7]

So, what establishes the foundation of a strong civics education? The Brookings Institution highlights three crucial components: knowledge, skills, and dispositions. “Knowledge” refers to a basic understanding of government structures, processes, and concepts while “skills” references the abilities needed to be a responsible and active participant in American democracy. “Dispositions” indicates the important internal characteristics of an informed citizen, including a sense of civic duty and a genuine concern for the welfare of others.[8] Yet while civics courses are undeniably essential to the creation of a politically engaged population, education experts have emphasized the importance of interactive and participatory learning. To truly understand the democratic process and the functions of the American government, students should be exposed to real, experiential learning opportunities. A recent Brookings Institution study showed that, while 42 states require at least one civics course in their schools, only 26 states and Washington D.C. included hands-on educational offerings. To fix this deficiency, experts encourage activities including simulations, community service opportunities, discussions of current events, participation in student government, and lessons in topics such as news media literacy[9].

In regard to classroom learning, the materials and objectives emphasized in civics courses are starting to experience adjustments. The College Board recently revamped the Advanced Placement United States Government and Politics exam to encourage stronger civics education for high school students. Leaders of the College Board remarked that conditions under the current administration have fed a growing perception that college campuses are no longer safe for the free exchange of ideas and debate, making stronger educational preparation even more important; executives hope that all students applying to college are experts of all five freedoms of the First Amendment, not just Freedom of Speech. The new AP Government and Politics test, remodeled to teach young people these values, is built on a knowledge of the Constitution as well as 15 Supreme Court Cases and nine important documents that experts believe every American should know. Using their knowledge from this course, a class in New Jersey was even credited in a Senate committee report for their content contribution to the Civil Rights Cold Case Records Collection Act.[10] When given the tools to become active participants in the political world, young people can evidently make their mark on American democracy.

Studies on civics education certainly reveal the need for stronger programs and offerings in schools across the nation. As recent bursts of youth political activism have revealed the capacity for engagement and influence among young people, it is our nation’s duty to provide them with the lessons they need to become informed citizens who are eager to participate in American politics. However, it is clear that individual state standards are needed to ensure universality in civics education; schools across the nation must implement efficient and comprehensive programs that instruct all young people on the importance of civic activism[11]. By igniting a sense of civic duty in young citizens, schools can establish a lifelong commitment to political participation and awareness, thereby ensuring a more knowledgeable population in the future.


[1] “Civics Education Initiative .” Civics Education Initiative: 100 Facts Every High School Student Should Know, 2019,

[2] Shapiro, Sarah, and Catherine Brown. “A Look at Civics Education in the United States.” American Federation of Teachers, 11 June 2018,

[3] “Civics Education Initiative”

[4] Ibid.

[5] Shaprio and Brown, “A Look at Civics Education in the United States”

[6] McClure, Megan. “Tackling the American Civics Education Crisis .” LegisBrief: A Quick Look into Important Issues of the Day, National Conference of State Legislatures , 2017,

[7]  Shaprio and Brown, “A Look at Civics Education in the United States”

[8] Hansen, Michael, et al. “2018 Brown Center Report on American Education: An Inventory of State Civics Requirements.” Brookings, The Brookings Institution, 5 July 2018,

[9] Mann Levesque, Elizabeth. “What Does Civics Education Look like in America?” Brookings, The Brookings Institution, 24 July 2018,

[10] Friedman, Thomas L. “The Two Codes Your Kids Need to Know.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 12 Feb. 2019,

[11] Hansen, Michael, et al. “2018 Brown Center Report on American Education: An Inventory of State Civics Requirements”.

yca climate change education pic

The Attempted Distortion Of Climate Change

The Attempted Distortion Of Climate Change

The Urgent Need For Comprehensive Education In Local Schools To Address A Global Crisis


  • Challenge climate change deniers and promote environmental education through informative resources such as

By Gillian Hand

        In 2017, 350,000 American teachers received a publication from the Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank based in Illinois. Titled “Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming,” Heartland’s booklet and DVD package bombarded educators with an attempt to challenge the prevailing scientific stance on climate change.[1] Although 97% of scientists agree that climate change is happening now, unwarranted skepticism surrounding the evidence has prompted continued debates on this global crisis.[2] Calling younger generations to action, believers are fighting desperately to convince American citizens of the urgency of climate change before it is too late. Proper education will be fundamental in the fight for research and reform in a debate that will ultimately decide the fate of a world on the brink of a climate catastrophe.

        The recent climate report from the United Nations issued an ultimatum to humanity, naming climate change as the defining issue of this era and initiating a countdown of 12 years before the destruction is irreversible. Due to increased greenhouse gas emissions from industrialization, deforestation, and agriculture, the atmosphere has been filled with unprecedented levels of carbon dioxide, dangerously warming the Earth and threatening widespread environmental devastation.[3] Yet while accomplished scientists stress the urgency and sheer necessity of change in industry, land, and energy systems, far too many Americans continue to deny the existence and gravity of this international situation. The statistics are frightening: although 71% of Americans believe in global warming, only 50% think that they will be personally harmed by these changing environmental conditions.[4] Beyond this, only six in ten Americans accept that humans are the cause of climate change, while four in ten believe that the media exaggerates its seriousness.[5] To change America’s narrative on climate change, citizens must be exposed to hard evidence and potential solutions—developments that will require stronger educational programs at all levels of society.

        Currently, 19 states have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards, an educational guide for science content in K-12 curriculums that incorporates factual climate change instruction. These states, representing over 36% of Americans, provide students with evidence-based education on current environmental events and conditions, thereby helping them understand the stakes and consequences of a rapidly changing climate.[6] However, some states, such as Texas, West Virginia, Idaho, and Florida, have fought against the Next Generation Science Standards, electing to instead implement their own curriculums; these programs permit teachers to challenge school textbooks and dispute theories of topics like climate change and evolution.[7] While widespread teaching of climate change denial is certainly an issue that demands attention, other concerns point to the fact that many teachers lack essential comprehension of these subjects, compelling them to shy away from climate discussion in the classroom.[8] In light of the United Nations’ harsh climate report, the need for a stronger and more comprehensive education policy in relation to climate change is undeniable.

In April 2018, the Climate Change Education Act (HR 5606/S. 2740) was introduced in the Senate by Edward Markey (D-MA) and in the House of Representatives by Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH1). On the grounds that “the evidence for human-induced climate change is overwhelming and undeniable,” this Act seeks to form a new system of environmental education, altering America’s perspective on climate change in the process. In a proposed program courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Climate Change Education Act would provide learning opportunities for students along with the public at large, thereby increasing climate literacy and promoting more sustainable practices. Objectives focus on a thorough understanding of the consequences of human action as well as the implementation and explanation of new technologies and initiatives with climate-friendly benefits. With eight co-sponsors in the Senate and 23 co-sponsors in the House, the bill currently awaits reviewal.[9] Through efforts such as the proposed “Green New Deal”, an economic program that would address climate concerns, climate change is gradually gaining a stronger presence on the political stage, making it more likely that the Act will garner attention in the 116th Congress.  

In practice, the Climate Change Education Act would promote evidence-based learning in American schools and across the general population. With younger generations being hailed as the key advocates behind increased climate regulation, logical and accurate school-level education is needed to stamp out opposing and regressive arguments. Consider Texas-based teacher Eric Madrid, an educator with firsthand experience countering climate change denial in the classroom. Madrid explained that most of his students who once denounced the climate crisis as “fake news” were persuaded after viewing evidence of environmental responses to human activities, contrary to certain persistent adults who refused to stray from long-held beliefs. In response to the concern that many teachers feel uncomfortable or unprepared when teaching climate science, Madrid expressed hope that educators will soon receive more background information and resources that can make these lessons easier to teach.[10] Thankfully, the Climate Change Education Act speaks directly to these uncertainties. Using modern technologies, the program would make environmental education easily accessible for citizens of all ages by promoting initiatives in renewable energy, greenhouse gas reduction, and energy conservation. Beyond this, the Act would also aim to train teachers in climate science and help them incorporate these topics into K-12 curriculums, making educators more comfortable addressing climate issues in the classroom.[11] 

        Among the 350,000 teachers who received the Heartland Institute booklet, many chose to reject the provided materials and corresponding belief system. One called Heartland’s work “disingenuous,” while others condemned the Institute’s efforts to undermine the urgency of a global crisis. Some even chose to use the information as an example of climate change denial, highlighting the ways in which non-believers can obstruct scientific evidence in their favor.[12] Yet while these disapproving responses are certainly a sign of hope, it is concerning that teachers and schools were targeted at all; while the need for enhanced education is indisputable, it is clear that American schools have become a political battleground for climate change believers and deniers. With persisting doubt, confusion, and fear of climate change dominating the modern political landscape, it has never been more important to teach the truth. With efforts such as the Climate Change Education Act, Americans will be one step closer to halting human-caused environmental destruction, thereby providing future generations with hope of a safer and more sustainable planet.



[1] Banerjee, Neela. “Science Teachers Respond to Climate Materials Sent by Heartland Institute.” InsideClimate News, InsideClimate News, 22 Dec. 2017,

[2] “Scientific Consensus: Earth's Climate Is Warming.” Global Climate Change, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory , 18 Sept. 2018,

[3] “Climate Change.” United Nations, United Nations, 2018,

[4] Winerman, Lea. “By the Numbers: Our Increasing Climate Concerns.” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, Feb. 2018,

[5] “Americans On Climate Change.” Climate Chat,,

[6] “About the Next Generation Science Standards.” NGSS@NSTA, Nation Science Teachers Association ,

[7] Day, Adrienne. “Climate Change in Schools Where It's 'Fake News'.” CNN, Turner Broadcasting System, 14 June 2017,

[8] Kirk, Karin. “Teachers Dig in to Teach Climate Change.” Yale Climate Connections, The Yale Center for Environmental Communications, 9 Sept. 2017,

[9] “Climate Change Education Act (S. 2740).”, Civic Impulse, LLC. ,

[10] Day, “Climate Change in Schools Where It’s ‘Fake News’”

[11] “Climate Change Education Act.” Environmental Education and the 115th Congress, North American Association for Environmental Education, 27 Apr. 2018,

[12] Banerjee, “Science Teachers Respond to Climate Materials Sent by Heartland Institute”

Free tuition article photo YCA

The Case For Free Tuition

The Case For Free Tuition

In response to the skyrocketing prices of higher education, calls for free tuition for low-income students are echoing through the American population.


  • Visit the Campaign for Free College Tuition to support free tuition for low and middle class income students at public colleges and universities

By Gillian Hand

In a fiercely competitive professional environment, the value of a college degree is undeniable yet concerningly unattainable for many lower-income families. A recent report from the National Center for Education Statistics had only 16% of low-income students graduating from a college or university, a condition largely due to the towering expenses of higher education.[1] In response to these dropping rates of college enrollment and completion, the price of postsecondary education has grown into a heated debate, prompting concerns about the future of our education system and the state of the American workforce.[2] As frequent funding cuts force public colleges and universities to raise their fees and tuition, higher education has become unreachable for many low and middle-class students, prompting louder calls for a revolutionary change in educational opportunity: free tuition.

With student debt rising to a record $1.5 trillion, the concept of free tuition has proved itself to be a compelling American issue. Supporters of the movement highlight the escalating costs and inevitable debts that prevent many low-income students from attending college, emphasizing how the inaccessibility of higher education damages their futures as well as the state of American society as a whole.[3] Opponents argue that the programs will in fact cause more harm than benefit; with less money in public institutions, faculty and resource capacities would decrease and funding would be repealed from important need-based financial aid programs.[4] When paired with the prospect of higher taxes and the concern that free tuition will not solve the income inequalities at the heart of the issue, these arguments push back against the movement’s efforts to make higher education accessible for lower-income Americans.

The movement for free college tuition was launched in 2005 in Kalamazoo, Michigan, with the creation of the Kalamazoo Promise scholarship. With funds from anonymous donors, this initiative pledged to send graduates of the Kalamazoo public school system to in-state colleges and universities for free.[5] The Kalamazoo Promise not only produced higher levels of college enrollment among high school graduates, but also inspired twelve other states to implement free tuition programs of their own, often with specific terms and conditions. Some initiatives require applicants to maintain a certain GPA, while others ask that eligible students present clean records or pursue a specific area of study. To combat economic concerns, some programs observe a “last dollar” policy that requires students to seek federal aid — scholarships and Pell Grants — before turning to state organizations to cover the remaining tuition gap.[6] 

Following the passage of the 2018 State Budget earlier this year, New York launched a free tuition plan of its own to offer qualifying students a new path to a college degree: the Excelsior Scholarship. In an effort that has been applauded across the nation, New York state residents below the $125,000 income line now qualify for free tuition at City University and State University of New York institutions, opening doors for individuals who cannot otherwise come close to affording the skyrocketing prices of higher education.[7] 

        Naturally, these state initiatives are not perfect. While the Kalamazoo Promise was certainly a breakthrough in the drive for free tuition, there is no evidence that the program made any progress in overcoming the social mobility imbalances and income and racial inequalities that make the program necessary.[8] The Excelsior Scholarship has also produced its fair share of flaws with enrollment and completion; the program requires a minimum of 30 academic credits per year, a condition perceived to disadvantage students who work for a living or take care of children.[9] One student remarked that, as she was not appropriately informed about this requirement, she was rejected from the program due to insufficient credits from previous college semesters.[10] In addition, many free tuition programs do not include various substantial expenses such as textbooks, housing, and transportation. With these considerable costs excluded, it can grow difficult for an individual to produce necessary payments while keeping up with academic deadlines, ultimately endangering their ability to complete a college degree. To achieve the goal of equal access to educational opportunities, these complications must be recognized and righted.

Despite these programs’ shortcomings, it is clear that the free tuition movement is gaining speed at the state level. As it stands, however, there exists no federal law that creates and supports free tuition programs at the national level, keeping higher education out of reach for lower-income students across the nation. Enter H.R. 1880/S. 806, the College for All Act of 2017, a federal bill introduced to the Senate in April 2017 by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and in the House of Representatives by Pramila Jayapal (D-WA7). The College for All Act proposes to amend the Higher Education Act of 1965, making public institutions free for those below the $125,000 income level and community college costless for individuals of any income.[11] While the fear of raised  taxes has kept the Act from reviewal in the 115th Congress, the 37 Democratic co-sponsors in the House and seven Democratic co-sponsors in the Senate remain hopeful that it will be a starting point for future change and an inspiration for individual state action. These supporters plan to fund the bill with small taxes on Wall Street trades and bonds, a development that would keep the expenses off the shoulders of ordinary Americans.[12] With the new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives following the 2018 election, it is more likely that the bill will gain traction during the upcoming congressional cycle despite its lack of attention since its introduction. The educational opportunities that the College for All Act offers to lower-income citizens nationwide might just be the spark that higher education needs.

        The drive for affordable education will not proceed without complications. Students who fall above the maximum income line will not be eligible for free tuition programs, and will have to continue to seek out federal grants and scholarships with problems of their own. However, the recent push for free tuition is a battle that seeks to reform higher education and shape our nation’s future; regardless of income status, every student deserves the chance to pursue a degree that will provide them with the skills necessary to enter the workforce and advance American economic interests. While states like Michigan and New York have laid the groundwork, affordable education is an American issue that should be viewed and corrected at the national level.



[1] Musto, Pete. “Low-Income Students See Low Graduation Rates.” VOA, Voice of America, 7 Nov. 2017,

[2] Greenblatt, Alan. “Issues in Higher Education .” CQ Researcher , SAGE Publishing ,

[3] Hill, Catharine. “Opinion | Free Tuition Is Not the Answer.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 21 Dec. 2017,

[4] Page, Max, and Dan Clawson. “It's Time to Push for Free College.” National Education Association ,

[5] Miller-Adams, Michelle. “About the Kalamazoo Promise.” The Upjohn Institute for Employment Research , 2015,

[6] Mercer, Marsha. “Why Free College Tuition Is Spreading From Cities to States.” The Pew Charitable Trusts,

[7] “Tuition-Free Degree Program: The Excelsior Scholarship.” Welcome to the State of New York, 18 Jan. 2018,

[8] Ready, Timothy. “Free College Is Not Enough: The Unavoidable Limits of the Kalamazoo Promise.” Social Mobility Memos , The Brookings Institution , 29 July 2016,

[9] Hilliard, Thomas J. “New York State's Excelsior Scholarship Shortcomings.” Center for an Urban Future (CUF),

[10] Disare, Monica. “Among NY Students Seeking New Excelsior Scholarship, Potentially Many Who Aren't Qualified or Could Pay a Price Later.” Chalkbeat, 1 Aug. 2017,

[11] Sanders, Bernard. “S.806 - 115th Congress (2017-2018): College for All Act of 2017.”, Library of Congress , 3 Apr. 2017,

[12] “H.R. 1880: College for All Act of 2017.”, Civic Impulse, LLC. ,

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