For many of us, college debt is one of the most universal and crippling issues currently facing our generation. Those of us who have chosen to attend or have been lucky enough to afford university are swimming in debt, caught between “needs more experience” and “needs more schooling.” More often than not, we’re working in jobs that have little or no resemblance to the topics that we actually studied. On top of that, a bachelor’s degree no longer sets you apart from the crowd, but has simply become the expected, required minimum for most employer’s consideration.
President Obama’s unveiling of a new proposal, America’s College Promise, will provide free community college education for all “responsible” adults, and could be a big step in the right direction for more widely accessible tertiary education. Following the example set by the Tennessee Promise, a scholarship that provides two years tuition-free education at a community college or technical school in Tennessee, this new program would provide any students, regardless of age, maintaining a 2.5 average and attending school at least half-time with their first two years of schooling free. Federal funding would cover three-fourths of the costs, leaving the responsibility of covering the remaining costs up to each individual state.
The privatization of higher education has created a didactic monopoly, preventing the growth and development of equal access to comprehensive education, oftentimes creating exclusivity based on socioeconomic status, rather than individual merit. Tertiary education has become a shrewd business at the hefty cost of the mind’s of our nation’s youth.
The program may have certain drawbacks, as it doesn’t specifically focus on the cost of other expenses, such as textbooks and living. It has also been met with some skepticism because it might not actually end up helping lower-income students as they are typically eligible for scholarships and grants. There’s also the issue of being able to afford the two extra years of schooling required to obtain a Bachelor’s degree. Which addresses yet another topic of discussion – why aren’t all four years free?
Despite these critiques, granting access to education to anyone who wishes to have one could benefit our nation’s collective IQ, so to speak. It isn’t going to solve all of our issues with education, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction. The proposal is being presented as a necessary means of keeping up with a changing, competitive global economy, but it’s much deeper than that. Like the age-old saying, “Knowledge is power,” this isn’t just about the cost. This is about advancing our entire country, providing the student population with knowledge that will empower them to become independent, critical thinkers and equip them with the awareness to make informed, educated decisions about the world around them. It will provide us with a voice, furthering the development and progression of innovative and sustainable changes for our future.