It has been some decades since a high school diploma was enough to get a job that would support yourself and a family. However, tuition costs even at the community college level have increased steadily over as budgets are balanced without little regard to the effects that it has on postsecondary education. Community colleges serve as an essential access point to higher education, where students can learn a trade/certification, an Associates degree, or build up credits for transfer to a traditional four-year college. However, the lower cost of community college does not translate into cheap.
Community colleges serve students whose parents make predominantly less than $67,000 per year, and a larger proportion of community college students are independent from their parents. The average bills for tuition, fees, books, supplies, and other expenses can rapidly add up to thousands of dollars per year. Funding for students varies from Pell grants and student loans, state and federal student aid as students try to patch together their finances in order to earn a pathway into a career. With theuncontrolled rise of indebted students, the massive failure for for-profit colleges and trade schools, and the impact of such student debt on the economy, a national conversation has begun on postsecondary education that is long overdue.
The conversation was started by Bernie Sanders, and it was two words that cut through the noise.
This is not a radical idea. Entire countries such as Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, France, even Mexico, and Brazil have free tuition for college. In fact, many of the colleges and universities in the United States were free at their founding. Over time, tuition and fees were imposed when public funding was insufficient or growth demanded construction. In time, tuition became commonplace for even public colleges and universities, though the University of California system offered free tuition to in-state students until the 1970s. The G.I. bill after World War II sent millions of soldiers who had joined the military straight out of high school into higher education where they were entitled to $500 a year for books, tuition, and fees plus a stipend to cover living expenses.
Continuing the Conversation
The conversation has reached a turning point. Where high schools are trying to keep students engaged long enough to graduate by offering vocational education that turns out work ready students at graduation. States are also taking matters into their own hands by offering free community college in places such as Oregon and Tennessee. San Francisco announced free community college tuition at San Francisco City College. New York and Rhode Island are also moving ahead with their own free community college programs. However, four-year universities seem more inclined to pan such efforts, and snipe at the quality of instruction while worrying about enrollment declines in their own institutions.
Except for one.
Florida International University is the first four-year school to offer free tuition. It guarantees incoming freshman whose parents cannot help with tuition that the University will cover gaps in financial aid through all four years of college. Miami Dade College also offers the American Dream Scholarship, covering tuition costs for the first two years that are not covered by FAFSA or scholarship monies. Institutions such as these are investing in more than a football team, they are investing in the future of this country and the middle class. It is my hope to see many more four-year institutions follow suit and put the good of the country first. We have the ability to create new industries, supply them with workers, and revive the American economy – but only if those workers are adequately educated and trained.