The idea of “free college” has assumed an important place in the world of big and bold new policy ideas. However, it’s become an umbrella phrase for a variety of different policy proposals with very different terms and conditions. A free college plan can reinforce progressive values—reducing racial disparities, supporting democracy, and building a more inclusive economy—or it can undermine them.

If there is an opportunity to push a free college proposal at the federal level, policymakers and advocates must be equipped with a solid understanding of how the values and outcomes they wish to achieve would be driven—or thwarted—by certain design choices. To help facilitate a debate about free college that is grounded in values, A Progressive Framework for Free College by Suzanne Kahn examines how the design choices made in existing free college programs have affected the outcomes and values they promote. Ultimately, Kahn offers a federal free college framework that can be shaped by values and goals rather than by political expediency or conformity to a budget.