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Graduate Defense: Thomas Sharpe

March 9 @ 10:30 am - 11:30 am MST

Thesis Defense

Thesis Information

Title: The Impact of Free Tuition on Course-Level Student Outcomes

Program: Master of Science in Economics

Advisor: Dr. Kelly Chen, Economics

Committee Members: Dr. Michail Fragkias, Economics, and Dr. Samia Islam, Economics


The United States has experienced a substantial increase in tuition rates for higher education. At the national level free tuition at two-year public institutions has been one solution proposed by various leaders. The College of Southern Idaho (CSI) is a two-year public institution with an emphasis on serving the eight county South Central Idaho region. In the Summer of 2021, a year into the COVID pandemic, CSI leveraged federal COVID support funds to implement “First Eight on Us”. This first-dollar program provided students with up to eight credits for free, with minimal requirements. Then, in Summer 2022, a revised “First Six on Us” program was offered.

The objective of this study was to explore the impact of single semesters of free tuition on various student success outcomes. Outcomes considered included effort and course quality, which was aggregated from course evaluation data. In addition, grades in courses and subsequent enrollment in non-free semesters at CSI were analyzed using student information system data. This analysis found the First Eight on Us program led to increased enrollment, moderate decrease in average grades, minor drop in self-reported effort, little-to-no impact on the perception of course quality, no impact in the percent of new student retention and, due to enrollment growth, an increase in the total number of new students retained into non-free semesters.