Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

How Miami Students Can Get a Free College Education

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

How Miami Students Can Get a Free College Education

Article excerpt

Miami Dade College announced Wednesday the American Dream Scholarship. The 'free college' offer could help boost college graduation rates - a goal of President Obama's.

College tuition is going up and financial aid is on the chopping block in many states, but in the Miami area, one college is offering successful high school graduates a price tag that's hard to refuse: free.

Miami Dade College - the largest institution of higher education in America, serving more than 170,000 students on eight campuses - announced its American Dream Scholarship on Wednesday. It will cover 60 credits at a value of about $6,500 - enough to earn a two-year degree or start in on one of the four-year programs offered by the community college.

This spring's high school graduates in Miami-Dade County will be the first to benefit from the "free college" offer. To qualify for the new scholarship, students must have a 3.0 grade-point average and score well enough on entry tests to show they don't need remedial math or reading courses. Normally, about a third of the college's entering students pass at that level.

Funded primarily by private donations, the scholarship has the goal of giving families "the opportunity to send their children to college and not have to worry about having to bear such great financial debt," says Miami Dade College President Eduardo Padron. "We want our city to be a city of the future ... and the only way we are going to do that is by preparing young people for the jobs that are being created in the knowledge-based economy of the 21st century."

It's one of the many efforts under way nationwide to encourage more students to earn a postsecondary degree or work-related credential. President Obama's goal is for the United States to be No. 1 in the world by 2020 in the proportion of young adults who have college degrees. To get there, the nation needs an additional 8 million graduates.

Florida would need to produce more than half a million additional college grads to do its share, according to state projections released this week by the US Department of Education and Vice President Joe Biden, who has made college accessibility a priority as chairman of the Middle Class Task Force.

Getting students in the door is the first step. Community colleges are often thought of as particularly affordable, but for the neediest students, that is often no longer the case. Eighty percent of community-college students with financial need still have some unmet needs after receiving aid, if broader expenses such as books and food are taken into account, according to the Institute for College Access & Success in Oakland, Calif.

Although the Miami Dade scholarship covers only tuition, it is nevertheless "a great new story for a lot of students who were perhaps wondering about their futures," says Walter Bumphus, president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges in Washington. …

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