University of Tennessee will be free for low-income students starting in fall 2020

Sam Fulwood III

Sam Fulwood III Columnist, ThinkProgress

oining a small, but growing list of U.S. colleges and universities seeking to make higher education more accessible to a greater number of qualified students, the University of Tennessee announced recently it would guarantee free tuition and fees to admitted in-state residents with a family household income of less than $50,000.

The novel program — called “UT Promise” — provides a financial aid package for in-state students who enroll at one of the system’s campuses in Knoxville, Chattanooga, or Martin. The UT Promise covers the cost of attending classes at the selected campuses, after all other financial aid, such as Pell Grants and HOPE Scholarships, are received.

The UT Promise isn’t available for out-of-state students, who are charged about $49,000 per year.

According to a statement released by the university, 46 percent of the Tennessee system’s students graduate without debt and the goal of the new scholarship program is to make college more affordable to a greater number of in-state students. The university noted that five years ago it became the nation’s first state to make its community college system tuition-free for new high school graduates and later expanded that free-tuition program to older, returning adult students.

Funding for the program is expected to be provided by the University of Tennessee Foundation, which simultaneously announced an endowment campaign to support the scholarships. Until that funding stream is fully engaged, the university will cover all costs associated with the UT Promise, Boyd said.

College costs have skyrocketed over the past decade or so, as average tuition and fees at private four-year schools rose 26 percent and, worse, at four-year public schools soared by 34 percent. To combat the rising prices, which prevent many financially strapped students from even applying to college, university administrators and state officials have developed innovative scholarship programs to persuade students to apply to in-state schools.

Similar free-tuition programs are available in Oregon, Nevada, Arkansas, New Jersey, Maryland, Rhode Island, Delaware, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Indiana. Lawmakers in eight other states are considering similar programs.

Generally, the programs offer prospective students two years of free tuition at participating state community colleges or other associate-degree programs and vocational schools, with the opportunity to transfer into larger, flagship state universities. Also, for the most part, the financial aid is labeled as “last dollar” scholarships, meaning the program pays for whatever tuition is left after all other financial aid and grants are collected by the institution.

In some cases, the free tuition program is tied to beefing up the state’s future workforce. New York, for example, in 2017 became the first state to cover four years of tuition with its “Excelsior” program without tying the money to students’ academic performance. The Excelsior program requires attendance at a City University of New York (CUNY) or State University of New York (SUNY), taking at least 30 credits per year of classes and a plan to reside in the state for as many years as a student participated in the program.

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Reposted from ThinkProgress
Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Uber Drivers Deserve Legal Rights and Protections

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

In an advisory memo released May 14, the U.S. labor board general counsel’s office stated that Uber drivers are not employees for the purposes of federal labor laws.

Their stance holds that workers for companies like Uber are not included in federal protections for workplace organizing activities, which means the labor board is effectively denying Uber drivers the benefits of forming or joining unions.

Simply stating that Uber drivers are just gig workers does not suddenly undo the unjust working conditions that all workers potentially face, such as wage theft, dangerous working conditions and  job insecurity. These challenges are ever-present, only now Uber drivers are facing them without the protection or resources they deserve. 

The labor board’s May statement even seems to contradict an Obama-era National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling that couriers for Postmates, a job very similar to Uber drivers’, are legal employees.

However, the Department of Labor has now stated that such gig workers are simply independent contractors, meaning that they are not entitled to minimum wages or overtime pay.

While being unable to unionize limits these workers’ ability to fight for improved pay and working conditions, independent contractors can still make strides forward by organizing, explained executive director of New York Taxi Workers Alliance Bhairavi Desai.

“We can’t depend solely on the law or the courts to stop worker exploitation. We can only rely on the steadfast militancy of workers who are rising up everywhere,” Desai said in a statement. 

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A Friendly Reminder

A Friendly Reminder