Expanding community colleges would make higher education more accessible

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There was a time when ‘higher education’ and ‘debt’ were mutually exclusive terms. Currently, college tuition is rising higher than the inflation rate, but there still remains one affordable option — community colleges.

The Center on Education and the Workforce projects that by 2018 there will be a demand for 22 million college-educated workers and at the current rate, we will be unable to meet that demand of college graduates. This calls for innovative solutions, such as the ones proposed by Texas lawmakers who have filed several bills to allow some or all community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees. This offers a practical solution to marry the debate between the accessibility and affordability of a higher education, while also addressing the demand for an educated workforce.

Higher education is an investment in order to tap into opportunities for not only a better paying job, but a higher quality of life. According to Pew Research Center, the earnings gap continues to widen between college-educated and non-educated individuals. In addition, 53 percent of those with a bachelor’s degree reported job satisfaction as compared to the 37 percent without any college.

When you couple this with the demand for an educated workforce, a college education becomes a necessity and not a luxury. By its history, community colleges are meant to provide affordable and accessible higher education. Unlike traditional public or private universities, community colleges were originally called junior colleges and were meant to cover general topics before transferring. Community colleges come at a fraction of the price of a traditional institution or accommodate to job-specific training by offering vocational programs. Additionally, their open admissions policy creates a racially and socioeconomically diverse atmosphere that better reflects this nation’s makeup.

Texans should not only support allowing community colleges to include four-year programs, but also demand that we can at least provide free tuition at these institutions. New York state has recently passed legislation that would provide free tuition. While there are limitations to this legislation in terms of accessibility, such as requiring students to enroll full-time or not covering living expenses, it does ease the burden of cost.

Offering free tuition or allowing community colleges to have four-year programs is a fiscally-sound option for taxpayers to invest in our students. Graduates would be able to boost the economy by filling in-demand positions rather than outsourcing labor, but this would also be an investment to close the opportunity gap. The fact of the matter is, we need more graduates and supporting the expansion of community colleges would make higher education more affordable and accessible for the greatest number of people.

Fernandez is a rhetoric and writing and Spanish senior from Allen. She is a Senior Columnist.