It’s no secret that today’s jobs require some type of college credential and that those without it will be paid less. Even though financial aid is widely available, many still see the cost of college as prohibitive. Horror stories about student loan debt continue to lead the news. All of these circumstances have created a need for America to find a better way to educate its citizens when it comes to higher ed.
In January, President Obama introduced the America’s College Promise proposal to make two years of community college free, allowing students to earn the first half of a bachelor’s degree and earn skills needed in the workforce at no cost. But this doesn’t mean students have no responsibility. They must earn good grades and stay on track to graduate or complete an occupational program.
This week, community colleges around the nation are participating in the President’s Heads Up campaign to draw attention to the need for free college for the first two years. As an open access institution, KCTCS would be able to offer even more Kentuckians the opportunity to earn a life-changing higher education credential under America’s College Promise. We are focused on student success, so this additional support removes any financial barriers that may be keeping some students from beginning college or completing their programs.
Although the idea of free college sounds radical, it’s really not. You may not know that high school has not always been free. Nearly a century ago, the movement to make high school education available to everyone helped lead to greater educational attainment for many Americans. Because high school was available to all, our workforce was one of the best educated in the world. Unfortunately, because of changes in the world, and in the world of work, we have seen others surpass us. It’s time to refocus.
KCTCS enrolls nearly half of all undergraduates in Kentucky. This proposal would surely increase those numbers, which means a better educated workforce for the state’s employers and higher wages for our students. This is important because Kentucky remains a state characterized by low educational attainment, workforce participation, earnings and high poverty rates.
Our state ranks near the bottom in the number of skilled workers needed to support manufacturing and the Commonwealth’s other targeted industry sectors. Many unemployed or underemployed Kentuckians need to return to college for the credentials needed to increase their wages. Making a free education available to these prospective nontraditional students in their communities would create more opportunities for them and local employers.
Take a minute to learn more about America’s College Promise and make your voice heard by visiting Heads Up America.