College For Free: Tulsa’s Radical Idea

Career College Central summary:

  • The average cost of one college year across all degree-granting intuitions in the U.S. was more than $19,000 in 2012, and we don't need to tell you what direction the price is heading. Which means lots of students are now borrowing heavily to make college work. President Obama threw some of them a lifeline earlier this week, with .
  • But the promise of some — emphasis on "some" — student loan relief down the road isn't enticement enough for many kids to spend big on a college education. The fact is, lots of them have simply been priced out of higher ed. But what if the first two years of college could be tuition-free, for everyone?
  • "We established Tulsa Achieves seven years ago," said Tom Mckeon, Tulsa Community College president, "because we no longer believed that a high school diploma was sufficient in terms of the jobs of the future."
  • In 2007, McKeon helped convince local business and political leaders to think of the program as an investment — not an expense. To qualify, students have to live in Tulsa County, graduate from high school with at least a C average and commit to at least two years of community service.
  • "I think we're seeing kids that never, ever dreamed that college was a possibility for them because parents didn't think it was within their realm," McKeon says. "So it wasn't even a topic of discussion."
  • The total cost for Tulsa Achieves is $3,400 per student per year and is mostly paid for with local property taxes. When asked if taxpayers are getting their money's worth, McKeon throws out these numbers: eight out of ten students who enter the program… finish it.
  • One key to that retention rate is the program's structure. Students get lots of encouragement and help — tutorials on note-taking, test preparation, research and time management skills. They're even required to take a course called "Strategies for Academic Success."

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