'Free college for most' doesn't sound as catchy as 'Free college for all!'
In a perfect world, the government would have enough money for all. But, in the current political climate, I'd settle for directing the money to the the most financially needy. I want government to give away subsidies to people in need or to change people's behavior. Giving money away to people who have enough and were already going to buy a product (college education) does neither.
New York may make waves for offering tuition-free college, but there is still the pesky problem of books and living expenses. Meanwhile, California has been quietly charging tuition, but rebating it back to low and middle-income families. In fact, most families will pay less under the CA system because CA offers more aid for living expenses.
Consider the University of California budget for 2018-2019 that was recently adopted. It includes a small increase in tuition, but the bulk of UC costs is not tuition. Living costs and books dwarf tuition two to one.
The median family income for CA families with children under 18 in 2010-2014 is $61,991.
Under the new UC budget, tuition is ~$13,000/year and the students and parents would be expected to contribute ~$15,000. (Undergraduate students can take out subsidized loans of up to $7,500/year or roughly half of the family contribution.)
Starting next year, the first year of California community college would be tuition-free for everyone.
One third of all UC graduates were CC transfer students. They typically move away and live on campus at an UC for only the last 4-5 semesters.
CA has effectively had free college for most, if they can get over the hurdle of being prepared to take advantage of it.
This is where I think CA--our entire nation--could do better. Notice that families with children under 18 have a lower income than families without children? Not only are children expensive, but they impair their care-givers' ability to work for cash income. This is why we need cash transfers from the unencumbered to the people who work hard to raise the next generation of citizens/tax-payers.
Look at the incomes for families with children under 18 by CA state assembly districts.
But you cannot compare two-parent families earning $100k/yr with one parent families earning $25k/yr. Every family in the latter group that manages to raise their children to be college-ready has achieved something heroic and earns my enthusiastic support.