We’ve heard oodles of college-free proposals from a handful of candidates on the Democrat ticket and we suspect the promises will gain steam as the Nov. 3 election day nears. The discussion, and its related cost to taxpayers, will be one of the more hotly debated campaign issues down the stretch.

In Michigan, a new program that will pay for a free associate’s degree at Grand Rapids Community College (GRCC) for all students graduating from a high school in the city is in the works. The program is the latest in Michigan to offer some level of free college. The Grand Rapids Community College plan, and others like it (Wayne State University has one), are tied to geographical boundaries and offer free college to one school. There’s also a push for a statewide free community college program.

“To say the Promise Zone is a game-changer really doesn’t go far enough,” GRCC President Bill Pink told the Detroit Free Press. “We are removing cost as a barrier in getting an education, helping get an associate degree, credits to transfer to continue their education and career skills. This will be life-changing for so many students and their families.”

The Grand Rapids Promise Zone scholarship is a last-dollar scholarship. Students are required to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine available need-based aid. Once the total need-based aid has been determined, they will receive a Grand Rapids Promise Zone scholarship to cover the remaining costs of tuition, fees, books and required course materials.

Grand Rapids Community College will provide $500,000 in scholarships as part of the program and also has accepted the role of administering the program on behalf of the authority board. The program will give qualifying students who live in the City of Grand Rapids and graduate from one of the 22 eligible high schools, including traditional public, public charter or private, a certificate or associate’s degree at the community college tuition free. The scholarship will not only cover tuition, but also books, supplies and fees.

Tuition at GRCC costs a full-time in-district student about $4,000 a year.

Another promising program for Michigan students came from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer when she announced in 2019 her plans for free community college to be included in next year’s budget. Her goal is to have 60% of all Michigan residents with some sort of post-high school degree or credential. Michigan currently is around 45%.

Whitmer’s statewide plan, which would have to pass the Michigan Legislature, would cost $80 million to $100 million a year. There’s no family income cap on the plan. The program would start in 2021.

The aggressive free-college programs, those already approved like the one in Grand Rapids, and the statewide plan proposed by Gov. Whitmer, could be the linchpins for free post-high school education reform in Michigan.