It seems that sweeping education reforms are becoming en vogue to both the brain trust in the White House in Washington D.C. and the Governor’s Mansion in Carson City.
During President Obama’s State of the Union address, the president outlined an affordable community college initiative that could have dramatic ramifications on not only the United States, but also here in northern Nevada. This comes nearly a week after Gov. Brian Sandoval pledged to allocate $800 million of his new budget to K-12 and higher education in the Silver State.
The “free” community college initiative that the president is trying to push is something that could galvanize Nevada — a state that has been considered an educational wasteland thanks to its ranking in the bottom fifth of the country during major census intakes over the last decade.
The initiative would, according to the president, make “community college as free and universal as high schools in America.” While this is certainly an ambitious move it does have its downsides. However, even if this bill is shut down going through the legislative process, the opportunity that students need to recognize is that higher education reforms like these need to be the rule and not the exception in the United States.
According to the Public Broadcasting Service’s website, the plan would provide tuition to students who are making consistent progress towards a degree or transferring to a four-year institution all while maintaining a 2.5 GPA. The financial aspect of the initiative would be split between the federal government (75 percent) and the rest would be picked up by the respective states that pass this legislation. For Nevada, the reform would go hand in hand with Sandoval’s commitment to increasing the productivity of Nevada high school graduates.
In fact, many are arguing that by making community college universal, the country would close the gap between the upper and middle class and make U.S. graduates more competitive overall in the global scene. The belief is that if more people have access to higher education, more people will pursue trade-skill careers and education at a university level as well.
Another positive from the successful implementation of this plan will be the diminished growth of student loan debt, something that Obama has made a conscious effort to mitigate. As of August 2013, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found that student loan debt reached a new benchmark: $1.3 trillion. Free community college will provide students the chance to take preliminary classes before they enter a university, thus removing the burden from universities that have to provide classes below the 100 level. This may also relieve the universities of having to provide excessive numbers of core classes.
Of course the plan is not without its detractors. Many said this initiative would become “dead-on-arrival” once it reaches the Republican-controlled Congress thanks to questions relating to its long-term stability, its apparent need for actually bolstering application rates and so forth. Other comments on the plan have pointed to its lack of actually slowing down a current problem, which is the growing rate at which high school students have to take remedial courses in both English and math.
Nonetheless, the initiative points to a higher need that both college students and voters need to identify: the importance of higher education reforms in America. Free community college is not the last solution to repairing the education system in the U.S., but it is a step in the right direction for the sole purpose of making higher education accessible to those who would not have the chance otherwise.
As students on a college campus, it is our responsibility to write to our legislators and request support in President Obama’s initiative. This is an opportunity to reform higher education in a way that could educate thousands of people across our country, so we need to take advantage of it. Use your voice as a voter and student to tell your legislators that you believe in educating our blossoming workforce.
For those in Nevada this would not only help to educate a growing population, but it would round out the one that currently exists. Even if the plan is not feasible thanks to some fiscal restraints, it brings up a topic that might become a reality down the line, which the universal investment in America’s educational future.
The Nevada Sagebrush editorial staff can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @TheSagebrush.