The EvoLLLution | It’s Time to Make College an Expectation for All
Expanding the promise of affordable higher education for everyone from the local and state level to the national level is critical to ensuring the most number of people possible have access to the opportunities offered by today’s labor market.

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.

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Readers Comments

Mike H 2015/08/31 at 9:04 am

The bit about remedial courses is interesting. It makes a lot of sense that high school performances over the period of a course or a few courses would be a much better indication of ability to perform at the post-secondary level, but standardized tests are still the be all end all. I wonder if we’ll start to see that shift.

    Helen Farber 2015/08/31 at 3:07 pm

    Here’s my question, though. What about non-trads who are enrolling after 10 or 15 years out of high school? We need to gauge their readiness but we can’t charge them an arm and a leg just to get to the point where they are ready for college-level coursework.

    Eloy Oakley 2015/09/08 at 1:19 pm

    Mike H – We are starting to see more and more colleges and universities drop standardized tests in favor of more data driven placement and admissions methods. Recently, College Board announced that it would be discontinuing one of its more popular placement exams Accuplacer and George Washington University recently announced that it would stop using the SAT and ACT for admissions.

WA Anderson 2015/08/31 at 11:58 am

It’s great to see smaller colleges really leading the way with this. As much as it needs to be a national strategy (and it certainly does) we need to take direction from those who are on the ground with students and most closely attuned to their needs.

Tyrese Banner 2015/09/01 at 9:22 am

I’d like to hear more about the criteria that will be used to determine if students are “responsible” enough to receive funding. It seems timely graduation and grades are high on the list, but what about students who have families to care for, or students who require time off or a slower pace due to mental health concerns or disruptive life events, etc. Dealing with challenges doesn’t make a person irresponsible. We need to make sure we’re starting with a focus on the most marginalized and moving up from their.

    Eloy Oakley 2015/09/08 at 1:23 pm

    Tyrese – No student comes to college expecting to stay for six years or more. Having said that the criteria we are talking about for a responsible student mirrors many other criteria associated with making satisfactory academic progress. As in most cases a college can set up opportunities for exceptions to be considered when life intervenes in a students academic pursuit.

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