Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well? Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort?
-- President Obama's State of the Union address, 1-20-15
President Obama's call for free community college across our country is a step toward awakening hope in our young people that hard work, education and persistence will pay off in a fair shot at the American dream. If his K-20 proposal actually becomes law, thousands of young people whose hopes for college seemed as remote as landing a corner office job will have an entry into a world of possibility. They will have access to both a college and career pathway for the array of jobs requiring Associates degrees or certification.
This could be a game-changer in poor communities where the youth are used to a concrete ceiling, not a glass one. Here, even if young people have the wherewithal to stay in school and earn a high school diploma, they rarely make the step into a college classroom. But if the price barrier is no longer a factor, these communities could find that just a handful of college students could grow into several enrolling in college, until suddenly earning a college degree becomes the norm.
But will free tuition be enough to lure students through the doors of their local community college? A degree in higher education is essential in today's environment, particularly if you come from a disadvantaged background, but educational experiences must connect with a young person's dreams or you will lose them straight away.