Bill Would Make Community College Tuition-Free for Most Students

A proposal to make community college tuition-free was hailed by educators as a potential game-changer for students from low- and middle-income families.

“This can be the greatest piece of social justice legislation in the state of Maryland,” Prince George’s Community College President Charlene Dukes told a Senate panel Wednesday.

Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, left, talks with Sen. Nancy J. King, chairwoman of the Budget and Taxation subcommittee on education. Photo by Bruce DePuyt.

“Post-secondary experience is a necessity,” said Bernie Sandusky, head of the Maryland Association of Community Colleges. “Unless we go out and provide folks an opportunity, we’re going to have haves and have-nots in this state.”

The educators were making a plea to the Senate Education, Health and Environment Committee and select members of the Budget and Taxation Committee on behalf of SB 317 introduced by Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s). HB 951 was cross-filed in the House by Del. Jimmy Tarlau (D-Prince George’s).

The bill would allow students whose families make less than $150,000 a year to pursue an associate degree tuition-free. The measure is similar to a more ambitious bill enacted last year by the New York state legislature, which granted in-state residents the right to attend four-year institutions free of charge.

“Student loan debt [in the U.S.] is $1.3 trillion,” Pinsky told his colleagues. “So we’re talking about a major, major problem. This bill … is meant to reduce the debt for students attending college and have more people better prepared for the work world.”

SB 317 would also:

  • Cap tuition increases at four-year institutions at 2 percent a year;
  • Provide child care and transportation funding for some low-income students; and
  • Include tuition assistance for “near completors” — students who left school within 15 credits of their degree.

“Maryland remains stuck at the bottom of the opportunity ladder for important jobs in cybersecurity and other professions which are necessary for the knowledge economy,” DeRionne P. Pollard, president of Montgomery College, told the panel.

To fund the proposal, Pinsky would eliminate the “carried-interest loophole,” an idea that drew skeptical comments from some members of the committee.

“This bill doesn’t remove debt, it just moves it to someone else,” said Sen. Bryan W. Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel).

But Pinsky defended the concept. “There’s a small segment of our population — probably a couple hundred people in our state — who are private equity managers, venture capital managers and hedge fund people” whose income is taxed at the capital gains rate, rather than at the standard rate paid by “99.99 percent” of workers, he said.

To qualify for free community college tuition, students would have to attend school full time, maintain a 2.0 GPA and work in Maryland for at least two years after graduating, “so we keep the value of their training within the state,” the senator said.

Lawmakers heard supportive testimony from students, including one woman who works three jobs while attending class. Her father was recently diagnosed with cancer.

“Poverty remains the greatest source of difficulty for students achieving their degree — not lack of effort,” Pollard said.

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Bruce DePuyt
Bruce DePuyt spent nearly three decades on local television, including 14 years as executive producer and host of News Talk on NewsChannel 8 in the Washington, D.C., area. He has served as reporter, anchor and producer/host of 21 This Week in Montgomery County and as reporter/anchor at NBC affiliate WVIR-TV in Charlottesville, VA. He's a regular contributor to WTOP (103.5 FM) and frequently moderates community and political events.


  1. IF the DACA goes through with up to 7 million illegals being given residency,,this could bankrupt our state. Enough with the free stuff. Lower our taxes. Stop being a sanctuary state and we could save billions that you could put towards honest education in our state.

    • That is such a good point, and why it is so wrong ot give illegals free or grants for their college, while others, mostly middle class students, have to borrow loans which the interest is way too high, and thanks to the Dems, under Sen Dodd, passed the banking bill and the bankruptcy bill under Bush, that forbids students from declaring these loans under bankruptcy. The students should take that to the Supreme Court as that is financial slavery and can’t be legal. But, that is what the corrupt legislators did to our students.

  2. This bill is really a money logistics game. According to the legislative bill, the grant that covered the tuition will be converted to a student loan if the student does not graduate and work+live in Maryland for two years following graduation.

    The state could accomplish the exact same thing by offering deferred payment loans to community college students with a guarantee of forgiving the loans after graduating and working + living in Maryland for two years.

    • I agree there are many other ways to offer tuition assistance. And, once the banks were unregulated and were charging 8%+ for college loans,,,it has resulted in tremendous debt for our families. We really need more vocational high schools and schools for students. Only about 25% of students should go to college. The colleges are dumbing down their grades and curriculum now,,,due to so many in college just to really avoid working. But, when you graduate from high school with no skills, no understanding of life, of finance, of home economics, of construction of anything,,,????

  3. As long the recipients are legal residents or full us citizens I’m good with it. If DACA survives I’m ok with DACA beneficiaries receiving it as well. They actually pay money to the govt to stay here and they work and pay taxes like everyone else so they deserve to be eligible as well. Now we just have to a better job as a state educating kids BEFORE community college.

    • Census 2010 said that 75% of all immigrants are on some kind of welfare. Since, citizenship was NOT asked or perm residents vs. Illegals, we have no way to sort that out. But, the point is taken, that here we have middle class students whose parents do not qualify for the Pell Grants, so they have tons of loans to pay back. This is so unfair unless they will give these students free tuition too. I am sick of illegals and even legal immigrants getting benefits, welfare, and other stuff, while our middle class pays the taxes and can’t afford the healthcare and has to borrow loans for college. This man only wants more free stuff for his college. If these students have good grades, they as lower income qualify for Pell Grants and other grants and that is the way they should go. And you have NO IDEA what it would cost to give 7 million DACA etal free tuition. MD already pays $2 Billion,,,yes Billion per year on illegals, and that was under O’Malley. Do we have any sane rational adults in Maryland who can understand math?

  4. Giving free tuition does not mean that there will be more workers with the skills that are needed in today’s labor force. The legislative bill gives no priority to students who will major in health care, engineering, computer science, or other high demand fields. Many students will graduate with degrees in Sociology or Middle Eastern Women’s Studies. They will become baristas at Starbucks. What this bill does do, though, is ensure full employment for professors in fields that have little demand outside of academia.


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