Why College Promise? Responding To The Nation’s Workforce And Education Challenges
This was previously posted on Forbes.com.
By Andra Armstrong and Matt Caffrey
April is National Community College Month. Each week, the College Promise Campaign is celebrating with a different theme to showcase why we need free community college, what varied opportunities are available at community colleges, and how College Promise programs are already making a positive impact on students, businesses, and communities.
We’re kicking off the month with “Why College Promise” Week – highlighting how free community college programs address the many challenges facing the nation’s workforce and the future of higher education in our communities.
College Promise programs cover tuition and fees and provide support to help students earn a degree or technical certificate. Today, more than 200 College Promise programs are underway in cities and towns across 44 states, up from just 50 three years ago. Momentum is also growing with statewide initiatives underway for eligible residents in 16 states.
Why are so many towns, cities, and states adopting free community college programs? Because a high school education is not enough for a good job and a decent quality of life. Making community college free helps more students get the education and skills they need to get the jobs they want and the lifestyle that moves them toward their American Dream.
This idea isn’t new. One hundred years ago we made high school available for everyone because a changing economy required workers with more education and skills, and our nation’s leaders and residents believed in the public purposes of a comprehensive high school education for all. Today, the nation’s economy and our society at large face similar challenges in reaching toward economic, social and civic prosperity for all. In two years, six in ten jobs will require an education beyond high school. We’re not ready. Only 46% of U.S. working-age adults have earned a college degree or certificate. We’re also falling behind our competitors in the global economy. We are now 13th in the world for people with a college education. A generation ago, we were first.
Those who stop their education at high school are being left behind. According to the Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, 99% of jobs created since the Great Recession went to workers with some college education. And employers feel the effects of an underprepared workforce too: there are 6.3 million jobs that businesses can’t fill because they can’t find workers with the right education and training they need.
At the very time our country needs more people to earn college degrees, too many people assume that college is beyond their means. It’s easy to understand why. Over the past 30 years, the cost of college in the United States has increased twelvefold. And Americans now owe more than $1.45 trillion in student debt. Granted, the majority of these graduates and drop-outs or stop-outs are paying off their loans month by month, but many are fraught with delays in starting their families or buying homes.
Students who do attend community college are working longer hours – many of them full-time – just to meet their day-to-day expenses. Research shows that working more than 20 hours a week negatively impacts students’ academic performance. This is one big reason why so many community college students are unable to complete their degrees. Even if they are able to complete their education, some students take on debt and may be forced to delay the next big steps in their lives.
By funding tuition and fees and implementing more student support like transportation vouchers and funds for books and materials, College Promise programs inspire more students to attend college. By alleviating financial barriers, these programs enable students to get the skills and education they need without the burden of unmanageable college debt.
College Promise Programs programs are increasingly offering additional support to help students succeed: mentoring, job shadowing, free bus passes, and/or food vouchers. Combining financial aid and academic support, Promise programs can help increase college completion while narrowing achievement gaps for underserved students.
College Promise programs have already helped tens of thousands of students succeed. As this movement continues to grow across our nation, millions more could be helped each year. With the leadership of local and state elected officials, educators, philanthropists, and business executives, more College Promise programs are emerging every month. These programs are removing barriers to higher education, helping students succeed, and leading our nation to a better-prepared workforce and a more equitable and inclusive society.
That’s why we’re thrilled to celebrate community colleges and the momentum to make them free during National Community College Month this April. Become part of the movement on Twitter at @College_Promise and participate in our celebration of National Community College Month.