Massachusetts Senate Proposes Free Community College for All

Expanded Opportunity


On May 6, Senate leaders unveiled MassEducate, a proposal for tuition-free, universal community college for all Massachusetts residents, aimed at boosting the state’s workforce and expanding opportunity for students and families in every part of the Commonwealth.

The announcement was made during an event at Middlesex Community College in Lowell, where Senate President Karen Spilka, Senate Ways & Means Chair Michael Rodrigues, and Senate Higher Education Chair Jo Comerford gathered with members of the Senate, presidents of the Commonwealth’s 15 community colleges, business leaders, students, and advocates.

“Today, we shift conversations about college from ‘I wish’ to ‘I will’ for thousands of students and families in Massachusetts,” Spilka said. “We are investing in talent that is right here at home and opening the workforce floodgates to employers who are starved for graduates, so Massachusetts keeps the competitive edge that we pride ourselves in.”

MassEducate would invest $75.5 million in new spending to cover tuition and fees for all residents, as well as up to $1,200 for books, supplies, and other costs to students who make up to 125% of median income in the state. Pell-eligible students already eligible for a books stipend through state financial aid would also be eligible for a stipend for books, supplies, and costs of attendance, for a combined amount of up to $2,400 per year.

“Today, we shift conversations about college from ‘I wish’ to ‘I will’ for thousands of students and families in Massachusetts.”

“With the historic investments announced today, ushering in universally free community college and more, the Senate doubles down on our commitment to build back the power and promise of public higher education,” Comerford said. “The Senate investments will propel the Commonwealth forward toward greater social equity and greater economic competitiveness.”

The Senate’s plan, which will be included in the chamber’s FY 2025 budget, would continue to invest in programs created in the FY 2024 budget, including $18 million in free nursing programs at community colleges and $24 million in free community college for residents over age 25.

Students would be eligible for free tuition, fees, and the stipend in the fall 2025 semester if the proposal is included in the Commonwealth’s final FY 2025 budget.

To support students whose education paths can be jeopardized by unanticipated life events, Senate leaders announced the creation of the Student Persistence Fund, a $10 million investment that would go directly toward aiding community colleges and state universities in supporting low-income students with such costs that are shown to put someone’s chance of finishing school at risk, such as transportation, childcare, or food insecurity.

Understanding that retention and graduation is directly tied to support systems like advising and career planning, the Senate also proposed an $18.3 investment in the Supporting Urgent Community College Equity through Student Services (SUCCESS) program, which is designed for community colleges to invest in wraparound supports and services using models proven to strengthen outcomes for students facing systemic barriers, especially for colleges’ most underserved populations.

To ensure the long-term fiscal sustainability of the program, the Senate’s proposal would institute annual tuition-increase caps at community colleges set at an inflation index. And to hold community colleges accountable for producing positive outcomes, the proposal creates a working group to re-evaluate community-college performance funding, aimed at better aligning state funding with key metrics such as student success and workforce alignment.

Recognizing that many Massachusetts students opt directly for four-year universities, the budget makes a $105 million investment in the Massachusetts financial-assistance program MassGrant Plus, which keeps college costs low for students at all public colleges in the Commonwealth. This increased investment builds on recent investments that have allowed all Pell-eligible students in Massachusetts to go to a community college, state university, or UMass campus without paying tuition or fees.

The proposal additionally includes policy directives to study future paths to success for the Commonwealth’s students. It directs the Department of Higher Education to improve the credit transfer pathway between two- and four-year institutions so students can easily transfer to a public four-year institution. It also creates a new commission to evaluate current state financial assistance for students to attend state universities and UMass and evaluate ways to further ensure accessibility and affordability of an education at these institutions.