~~~ Access full report HERE & brief version HERE




  • COVID-19 exposed the financial vulnerability of our country, and it’s deep racial inequalities.  While we work to reboot the economy from the coronavirus fallout,  we must leverage education’s potential.
  • With proper funding, higher education is a powerful engine of upward mobility. It’s also a great equalizer when it’s accessible and affordable.
  • There are powerful links between an educated nation and an increase in productivity, innovation, entrepreneurship, competitiveness, and civic engagement.
  • In the last decade, twenty-two tuition-free programs have launched at the state level. Add to that the many others proposed and waiting for approval.
  • States’ renewed interest in providing tuition-free college is encouraging, but it will not counteract the inequities inherent in our educational and economic systems.
  • Our paper shows that the limited focus on covering tuition and fees, which represent only a part of the total cost of attendance, distracts from addressing the real financial and non-financial barriers currently preventing many students from accessing and obtaining a higher education credential. 
  • We present an equitable method for allocating financial aid that remedies the regressive features of existing tuition-free programs. We show that without accounting for the full cost of attendance and students’ ability to pay, these new programs fail to allocate limited resources effectively to where they are most needed. 
  • To use the same terminology used by tuition-free programs, we propose a grant allocation method that acts as a last-dollar scholarship on the full cost of attendance. This is equal to covering the student’s unmet need, which will reduce, if not eliminate, the need to borrow for college. 
  • We conclude with an equity analysis of the various eligibility requirements attached to typical affordability initiatives. We recommend a framework to increase their inclusivity. 
  • The findings and recommendations of this paper are applicable to state-level affordability programs and any scholarship providers interested in inclusive and equitable initiatives.