It’s Time to Make College an Expectation for AllEloy Ortiz Oakley | Superintendent-President, Long Beach Community College District
During my youth a high school diploma was considered a direct route to a good paying job. Today, it’s only a first step. Demands in our economy, the rapid introduction of new technologies and other advancements in the workplace have all necessitated additional education beyond high school.
Of course, not every student must earn a four-year degree to achieve success in life. But the marketplace demands some form of higher education, whether it’s a college degree, credential or additional technical education. Yet our state and national support for education has not kept pace with these demands.
As the need for education has grown, we have placed higher burdens on those who can least afford it: students and working families. Many students are leaving college with debt levels that would have financed a home mortgage in previous generations. Still many don’t finish college at all because of the cost and myriad obstacles our education systems put in front of them.
We now have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to help millions of students throughout the nation achieve their dreams, by eliminating community college tuition for responsible students.
The America’s College Promise Act of 2015, introduced recently by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) would eliminate the tuition cost of community college for qualified students, provided they do their part to maintain good grades and finish quickly. In addition, these bills support growing capacity at our public universities.
It’s estimated that the America’s College Promise Act would attract an additional 9 million students nationwide who are now considering going to college, but are unable to afford it or believe that college is financially out of reach.
And how would community colleges need to adapt to a tuition-free model? Much like our students would be asked to maintain higher levels of performance, our institutions nationwide must also challenge themselves. We must increase our efforts to provide structured pathways, to ensure that students have the ability to complete their educational goals in a timely manner. We must also build stronger relationships with our local high schools and universities to identify and remove any unnecessary roadblocks that stand in the way of student achievement.
Long Beach City College launched the Promise Pathways program in 2012 to address one of these major roadblocks: unnecessary remedial classes. Since then we’ve had tremendous success in placing students in English and math based on their high school achievements, which is a far more reliable predictor of success than test scores alone. By avoiding unnecessary remedial classes, Promise Pathways students move directly into transfer-level courses, are less likely to drop out, and as a group achieve equal or greater success than their counterparts.
The Promise Pathways program is a signature piece of the Long Beach College Promise, a historic partnership between the Long Beach Unified School District, Long Beach City College, Cal State University Long Beach and the City of Long Beach to make college more accessible and affordable for students in our city.
I’m proud that the model established by the Long Beach College Promise has helped shape the national dialogue on community colleges.
But we can’t stop at the local level.
It’s time to expand the promise of affordable higher education for everyone. It’s time for our nation to support free community college and embrace this historic expansion of educational opportunities.