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Columns, Opinions

Isman ’15: Education should be a given

By
Opinions Columnist
Friday, January 23, 2015

In his State of the Union Address Tuesday, President Obama talked about his plan to make community college free for part-time and certificate students, making continuing education a more accessible and possible option for many people. “America’s College Promise” would cover tuition for a variety of students, such as older students looking to get a degree, and for a variety of programs, including certificate programs and courses that could lead to an associate or bachelor’s degree.

The program is aimed at helping the population of Americans unable to afford student loans or who aren’t specifically qualified for scholarships. While the United States is a pioneer in many aspects of education, the affordability of higher education is not one of them. “America’s College Promise” would support nearly 9 million students annually. So why has it taken so long for this plan to even be considered?

Education should be the right of any citizen willing to work for it. But it has to be taken into account that not everyone has the same means and availability to go to a four-year program or to spend all day studying. For this reason, making community college — with its two-year programs and part-time studying — free is the best way to allow the people who cannot afford four years of university study.

The United States already has a system of state schools — four-year colleges and universities that grant in state students a bachelors degree at a lower tuition cost — offering an opportunity for some low-income students to study. However, it doesn’t open all doors. It’s hard for part-time students who might need to work as well as study to keep up, and the commitment of a four-year program could hinder certain students.

As Gene Block, chancellor of the University of California at Los Angeles, states, “Increasing numbers of Americans see the pathways of economic opportunity narrowing and believe it will be impossible for them to work their way into the middle class or beyond.” Obama’s proposal for free community college, which includes two-year certificate programs as well as courses that could lead to a bachelor’s degree and only requires students to maintain a C+ average or higher, would lower the barriers to studying that many low-income, yet very willing, students are facing.

Additionally, the United States has a system of public education until high school. It is unfair that the government funds students’ education until they’re 18, but once the time for higher education comes, there is a percentage of the population that won’t be able to go for financial reasons. This method encourages students to educate themselves only to a certain point and suggests that continuing an education and earning a college degree is only reserved for the privileged — not just in terms of wealth but also in terms of academic excellence.

The opportunity to attend university should be the same for everybody regardless not only of race but also economic opportunity and time availability. Furthermore, exceptional students from low-income areas or lower-ranked high-schools can often receive scholarships, but what happens to students that want to continue their education but don’t make it into that category? The plan would solve this issue by requiring students to maintain a C+ average.

As Fortune magazine reports, the argument against Obama’s proposal is largely that grants and aid make community college affordable and the program “won’t make a dent in community college students’ other expenses, like the nearly $8,000 they must fork over for housing and the $1,700 they pay for transportation.”

But this program would alleviate those issues. It allows low-income students to be able to focus on paying one bill at a time, rather than having to pay for all three things as well as any other expenses they might have to take care of, such as food, materials for school or daycare for their children. It would ensure that grants — such as Pell grants — go toward paying for transportation, housing and any material they might require.

Moreover, given that “60 percent of students at two-year colleges are enrolled part time,” making their education free would mean that the money they earn in their jobs can be put toward their livelihood — food, housing, clothing, etc. Allowing these students to study for free would mean that they would probably have to work less than if they also had to use their income for tuition and would give them more time to focus on their studies.

More than anything, there is nothing farfetched about his program. Public universities in Latin America, such as Universidade de Sao Paulo in Brazil and Universidad de Buenos Aires in Argentina, are completely free of charge. These universities continue to be very highly ranked, and although they might be difficult to get into, they provide incentives for a population that, by and large, doesn’t have the means to pay for an expensive university.

Finally, while the money to fund these universities has to come from somewhere — increased taxes or reduced funding for other programs — a more educated population could solve this. A more qualified population means that more people are getting better jobs, earning more money in these jobs and paying higher taxes. It becomes a successful cycle: We fund these students’ education so that they can fund the next generation’s education.

In a country that prides itself on people’s ability to achieve the American Dream, it is very hard to achieve social upward mobility without a college degree. A continuing belief in that dream means that some form of higher education should be available — and easy to attain if willing — to all American citizens. Everyone should have a right to receive an education if they want it.

I commend Obama and his administration for proposing a plan that would increase the percentage of the population with an advanced degree. This program will open many doors for people who did not believe there was a way out of poverty but could have the opportunity if their country is willing to give them a means to do so.


Samantha Isman ‘15 can be reached at samantha_isman@brown.edu.

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  1. TheRationale says:

    In grown-up world, we know that nothing is free.

  2. The Emperor Has No Clothes says:

    $60 billion worth of other people’s money to create 13th and 14th grade. Fantastic idea, I can see nothing going wrong with this.

    As usual, the useful idiots trip over themselves patting him on the back for it.

    “Of the three million jobs out there, less than 20% require a four-year degree. We are lending money we don’t have to kids who can’t pay it back to train them for jobs that no longer exist.” ~Mike Rowe

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