College

To millions of parents and students, they're magical words: free college.

But is the idea pure fantasy?

More than a dozen states now offer grants, often called scholarships, promising to help qualifying students pay for some or all of their college education. In fact, that word, "promise," shows up again and again in these programs' official names: Nevada Promise, Oklahoma's Promise, Oregon Promise, Tennessee Promise ... you get the idea.

Illinois is creating a new merit-based scholarship aimed at getting more high school graduates to attend in-state colleges and universities.

The AIM HIGH grant pilot program will provide at least $50 million in financial aid. The state is providing $25 million in the current budget year. Universities are matching that amount.

Lawmakers approved the program earlier this year with nearly unanimous support. Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the measure into law Tuesday during a stop in Champaign.

Justin Napier is exactly the kind of community college graduate Tennessee was hoping for.

In high school, Napier didn't have his eye on college. In fact, he had a job lined up working on race cars after graduation. But in the spring of 2014, a year before Napier graduated, Gov. Bill Haslam announced a plan to make community college free for graduating high school seniors, part of a broader plan to dramatically increase the number of adults in Tennessee with college credentials. It was called, grandly, the Tennessee Promise.

In college, it's hard to learn while you're hungry.

That's a message Temple University higher education policy professor Sara Goldrick-Rab has been getting throughout her career.

She self-identifies as a "scholar activist." She has advocated for free college, and in 2013 she founded the Wisconsin HOPE Lab, which aims to turn research about low-income students into policies that improve equitable outcomes in post-secondary education.

If you're like most Americans, you don't have a 529 college savings plan.

If you're like most Americans, you don't even know what it is.

All the more reason to keep reading.

That's because, with the new tax law, Republicans have made important changes to 529 plans that will affect millions of taxpayers, not just the ones saving for college. Before that news, though, a quick primer.

For college freshmen who left home for the first time this year, learning to live with a roommate may be one of the easy challenges. For many, this is also the first time they will schedule medical appointments, fill prescriptions, and make decisions about their own health care. Unfortunately, many students aren't prepared to meet these basic life challenges. But with a little planning and parental guidance, college can be an opportunity for young adults to learn how to stay healthy and figure out how to get the right care when they are ill.

Vanderbilt University, Facebook

A Vanderbilt University poll said about two of three registered voters in Tennessee think students whose parents brought or kept them in the country illegally should be eligible for in-state tuition at public colleges and universities.

JLL, Facebook

Tennessee real estate giant Jones Lang LaSalle has signed a five-year contract in Governor Bill Haslam's plan to privatize property management on state public college and university campuses.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has signed a bill legalizing the concealed carry of firearms in some areas of public college and university campuses.

Last year, many against the bill celebrated strong language in Governor Deal's veto of a similar bill.

In that veto, Deal's office said it was "highly questionable" that the bill would make students safer.

Two years ago, when Amanda Gomez could not get financial aid for community college, she decided to enroll part time at El Paso Community College in Texas. This gave her time to work to pay for her courses.

Being a part-time student has its pros — mainly a lighter course load. But Gomez feels like she misses out on some important experiences, like being able to stay back after class to talk to her instructors, or study in libraries on campus.

She says the difference was notable when she took a semester as a full-time student.

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