Skip to Main Content

Free College Movements: Home

"Education is a Right!"

Banner from UCSB #MillionStudentMarch

Banner from UCSB #MillionStudentMarch. The Fix, Nov. 16, 2015.

Ask a Librarian

Not sure where to start? 




Welcome, Activists!

The 2020 presidential debate brought back to life an important movement: the free college movement. While some may think that this is only a modern day issue, it actually dates back up to the early 1960s. 

Until 1959, the University of Florida, for example, was free for in-state students for many decades — even the City University of New York (CUNY) system waived tuition up until 1976. Many of these colleges had an open admissions policy that resulted in opening doors for people from all walks of life. This was a step towards equity in education. 

Meanwhile, in California, Ronald Reagan (who would later become president of the U.S.) was elected governor of in 1966. He proposed that the University of California system should charge tuition to attend college, despite California’s 1960 Master Plan for Education that said otherwise. In response to student protests, in his words, this was to “get rid of undesirables […] those who are there to carry signs and not to study might think twice to carry picket signs.”

Eventually the movement subsided with the rise of 1970s conservatism, particularly due to the Nixon administration's education policies. As a result of this and other factors, the student debt crisis ensued and the free college movement was almost lost; some considered it dead. 

However, since 2015 a new movement has been gaining momentum as college tuitions have skyrocketed, and students hae been burdened with student loan debt. In fact, as we concluded this guide, our SMCCCD Board of Trustees pledged to set aside almost $7 million for free tuition and related programs.

The Free College Movements research guide is designed to help you better understand these movements historically and provide you with a framework to play your part in a nationwide fight to make public education free for all. This guide is also a resource for students doing academic work on this topic, with a focus on California and community college. 

- Umaima & Jessica

About this Guide

The Free College Movement research guide represents a collaboration between myself and Skyline College student journalist Umaima Ejaz for her Spring 2021 Honor's contract project. While Umaima has graduated, I welcome your suggestions for making this resource even better. Jessica Silver-Sharp <>


Profile Photo
Jessica Silver-Sharp
Skyline College Library
3300 College Drive,
Bldg. 5
San Bruno, California


For Librarians: You may publish any portion of this guide. Please acknowledge: Jessica Silver-Sharp & Umaima Ejaz, Skyline College.