It is estimated that by 2020, two thirds of all jobs will require some form of higher education; however, with the rise in college tuition students coming from lower income families may face difficulties in attaining a higher degree. Attending college requires other financial obligations that may add to their financial stress. Students have reported that these obligations include transportation, housing, extra-curricular activities, and food.
President Obama proposed the American College Promise this year, which would make two years of community college free. Under this proposal, students would be able to earn their associate’s degree for free as long as they adhere to specific requirements. These requirements include: maintaining a 2.5 GPA, attending at least half time, and making active progress towards completing a degree. Currently, community college students pay an average of $3,800 per year on tuition not including books, transportation, or other necessities. So why is receiving two years of tuition free education important? Why don’t people just go out and look for jobs after high school? In previous generations, a high school diploma was sufficient in securing a stable job; however, in today’s society a high school education is no longer enough to find stable employment and support a family. Since all jobs will require some level of higher education the American College Promise is a step in the right direction.
According to Chancellor Brice Harris, community college student completion rates have decreased over the past six years due to budget cuts and financial burdens. The financial assistance the American College Promise wishes to bring will lift the financial burden off of students for the first two years of community college, a time where many have difficulties adjusting to college life. Allowing tuition to be free for the first two years of community college will allow students to work towards degree completion by focusing on their education without worrying about how to pay for their tuition. As former community college students, we personally experienced how tuition was a huge issue that impeded the educational process. Instead of focusing on classes, we were more concerned with our finances, which adds to the overall stress of a full time student. In addition, the American College Promise will also allow half-time students to transition into full-time students by creating more time to focus on educational attainment compared to working two or three part time jobs to pay for tuition. Even if students keep their current employment, they are able to save up for their third or fourth college year.
The American College Promise is a stride toward putting community college education on the forefront for public interest and discussion. Santa Monica College (SMC), which is the local community college, is a top feeder into four-year universities, such as the University of California Los Angeles and the University of Southern California, transferring more than 2000 students in 2014. Students attending SMC would greatly benefit from the American College Promise since they would be able to receive their associate’s degree for free. Currently, only 39.4 percent of those aged 25 and older possess a post secondary degree. The American College Promise will lead to an increase in those possessing a post secondary degree, ultimately leading to a higher employment rate. Ultimately, by allowing community colleges to take the stage and demonstrate how their students can succeed when provided with greater financial assistance demonstrates their dedication for a higher education. Giving students these tools sets their futures, interests, and social reputation at a higher ground in comparison to those who do not attend college.
The American College Promise will not only provide students with the opportunity to achieve their educational goals and attain a college education which is the basis of stable employment in our current society, but it is also a stepping stone towards focusing overdue attention on community colleges.
Vanessa Correa and Jessica Javdan are USC MSW students.