Free College Tuition: a new reality in USA


Free college tuition — it’s back!martin-luther-king-anger-quote1

There has been a continuing debate as to whether college education is a privilege or a right of citizenship. In an age in which demand for unskilled labor is fading, will people without college be employable in 10 or 20 years?

The US has taken one position on this; Europe and the Commonwealth countries, the opposite. Today, it’s possible for a US family to put four children through college in Europe at the price of sending one to college in the US. For Europeans in several countries, college is free.

In the “golden age” of the US economy after World War II, college was either free or very inexpensive in the US. When I was in high school, City College of New York and the University of California still were free to residents.  Ronald Reagan eliminated free tuition in California.  New York was earlier.

On February 7th, San Francisco because the first city in the current era to offer free community college education.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee announced at a press conference yesterday that, starting next fall, community college will be tuition-free for all San Francisco residents through the City College of San Francisco.

As first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco would become the first city in the nation to make community college free to all city residents. Any student who has lived in San Francisco for at least one year – regardless of income – is eligible.

“To California residents who are living in San Francisco, your community college is now free,” Lee said at the press conference. (1)

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a plan in January to make all state, city and community colleges free to residents. There is now a bi-partisan budget deal to make that a reality.

Budget negotiators struck a deal late Friday that could make New York the largest state to offer tuition-free public higher education.

The $163 billion state budget agreement includes the Excelsior Scholarship, which covers tuition for any New Yorker accepted to one of the state’s community colleges or four-year universities, provided their family earns less than $125,000 a year. (2)

Interesting question: Why would you want to live in an expensive state like New Jersey when your kids can attend college for free next door? Or leave San Francisco for anywhere?



  1. Zack Friedman, “Free College: San Francisco Joins New York With Tuition-Free Plan,” Forbes, 7 Feb. 2017.
  2. Danielle Douglas-Gabrielle, “New York set to become first state to offer free tuition at public four-year colleges,” The Washington Post, 8 April 2017.


Parental Involvement in Student Achievement


17456_1269532813224_1076952025_30803996_7657050_nWe’ve all heard of “helicopter parents” — the ones who try to micromanage their child’s life.  The theory is that involvement of that type hurts the child in a number of ways.

It turns out that how teachers perceive parental involvement in the child’s education actually is a predictor of academic success.  Further, there is training that could enable teachers to improve their interactions with parents. That’s  a summary of the findings of a new research study from the University of Missouri — Columbia.

If there is a causal relationship between positive parental involvement and student performance, then anything that enhances the quality of that involvement should enhance academic outcomes.

“If” is important.  The study establishes an apparent association between positive involvement and performance.  It doesn’t document a mechanism by which positive parental involvement affects performance.  Is there an actual change in student behavior or in the teacher’s perception of that behavior?  We don’t know.  It makes logical sense that students should do better when parents provide positive support.  However, until we understand how the mechanism works, this could be a spurious finding.  So, should schools invest in training to improve interactions with parents?  There may be a number of other reasons to do that, but we don’t know for sure if that investment would improve achievement.  The Scottish verdict, “Not Proven,” applies.

One of the most common errors in statistical analysis by non-statisticians is the assumption that an association (correlation) proves a causal relationship.  Simply, if X is associated with Y, then X causes Y.  That’s just not true.  There needs to be a logical explanation of how X affects Y before we can make the case for causality. 

To illustrate this by example, males who grow old tend to get prostate cancer.  Statistically, age is correlated with likelihood of getting prostate cancer.  However, age doesn’t cause prostate cancer.  Other things happening in the body make older males more susceptible to this cancer.  We need to know what these other things are before we can talk about causality.


  1. University of Missouri-Columbia. “Students more likely to succeed if teachers have positive perceptions of parents: Teacher training program can help promote parent involvement in education.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 February 2017. <>.




Obesity and Coed Grades


Female students who are obese get lower grades than their peers in non-science subjects.(e.g., English).  That’s true even if standardized test scores for the obese and non-obese female are identical. Coeds who are overweight but not obese get grades that are comparable to their more svelte peers.

That’s the finding of research from the University of Illinois (Chicago).

“The study found obesity to be associated with a penalty on teacher evaluations of academic performance among white girls in English, but not in math. There was no penalty observed for white girls who were overweight but not obese.” (2)

The researcher goes on to hypothesize that teachers in subject associated with female gender stereotyping exhibit prejudice in grading obese female students.  Certainly, that’s a possible explanation.  Other studies have concluded that obesity can affect brain function including memory and concentration.

“Obesity subtly diminishes memory and other features of thinking and reasoning even among seemingly healthy people, an international team of scientists reports.” (3)

However, in Branigan’s defense, there is a substantial literature showing that teacher expectations of students affect the grades students receive. Stipek is but one of a large number of references discussing the impact of teacher bias on student achievement. (4)

Bias exists in both positive and negative forms.  If a teacher expects a student to do poorly, the student is likely to get a lower grade.  If the teacher expects a student to do well, the student is likely to get a better grade.

If I may hazard a guess, the same prejudices exist in the workplace with similar results.


  1. Amelia R. Branigan. (How) Does Obesity Harm Academic Performance? Stratification at the Intersection of Race, Sex, and Body Size in Elementary and High School. Sociology of Education, 2017; 90 (1): 25 DOI: 10.1177/0038040716680271
  2. University of Illinois at Chicago. “Teachers may be cause of ‘obesity penalty’ on girls’ grades.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 February 2017. <>.
  3. Janet Raloff, Obesity messes with the brain,” Science News, Vol. 179 #9, April 23, 2011, p. 8.
  4. D. Stipek, “How Do Teachers’ Expectations Affect Student Learning,”, 20 Juy 2010.
  5. Tim Lobstein et. al., “Child and adolescent obesity: part of a bigger picture,” Lancet. 2015 Jun 20; 385(9986): 2510–2520.