By Ashley Berry
Liberal Studies – Political Science
Community colleges are life rafts in the savage and tumultuous sea that is the job market. The appeal of higher education reaches not only first time students, but mothers, mid-lifers, veterans, the elderly, and anyone wishing to improve their life’s circumstances. Regardless of anyone’s age, the idea of four years being between now and a degree can be daunting.
Community colleges offer a middle ground between those with no education and the traditional four-year degree. With roughly 30% of associate’s degree holders now making higher salaries than their bachelor’s degree-holding counterparts, the attractiveness of community college has steadily been increasing.
Recently, President Obama proposed that two years of community college be free for Americans, stating that it should be as “free and universal as high schools.” This would be an incredibly important step, as it could make the world of difference for many people and industries. Our country is reaching a shortage of skilled workers that the job market demands. While community colleges offer a plethora of degrees, they are still not producing enough graduates to fulfill the ever-increasing need.
As fantastic an opportunity as President Obama’s plan is, a significant amount of structure will need to be created to make this plan successful. David Brooks, a writer for the New York Times, made a fantastic point in a recent article about the lack of adequate childcare options. Lack of childcare is a significant factor in parents being able to attend and finish college. Access to childcare on campus would be a great benefit for students with children and would allow more parents to go back to school.
Another issue faced by community colleges, and that has contributed to high dropout rates, is that students often feel that they’re not connected to their school or to others on campus. A great method that the state of Tennessee came up with in their free community college program was to combat this issue with a mentor program. To have someone who can help with assignments, talk, or go to school activities with is a fantastic way to engage students and keep them focused on their goals. Any successful community college plan must present funding for students to cover additional school costs, keep students engaged, and improve the quality of the material taught to make sure students become successful graduates.
This is a chance we have to take. While this will require substantial funding, and may need to be amended, it will be worth it. This is a plan that can effectively serve the people who need it the most. It may not go perfectly, but in life nothing goes perfectly on the first try; however, this is a crucial first step in finding a solution. If there was ever anything worth the money, it is education. Access to education changes lives. The start of broader access to education will solve many of the problems our nation is currently facing.
By Ashley Berry