Changing the downward spiral of poverty into a widening circle of hope, rebuilding the middle class and increasing the opportunities for social and economic mobility can only happen with the strengthening of our collective commitment to public education.
The relationship between state allocation and student costs in public higher education is crystal clear. As state allocations decrease, costs to students increase. According to the “2018 State Higher Education Executive Officers Association’s Annual State Higher Education Finance Report,” that relationship has now passed a “milestone.” Students are paying more (a greater percentage) for public higher education than ever before. In 2001, students paid approximately 30% of the costs for attending a State College here in Massachusetts, today it is above 50%.
There is no doubt that the collegiate path is not the best path for all. And we need to do a better job of creating opportunities for good jobs at good wages for those who don’t. That said, it is increasingly clear that a high school diploma is no longer the entry into the workforce that it once was. Because of the changes in society, 12 years is just not enough time to prepare for the complexities of today’s world. A college education can bring enormous benefits, including less unemployment, higher wages, better long-term health and higher life satisfaction.
The binary nature of our nation is both the creation and product of a binary economy. Education, which has historically been this nation’s engine for economic and social mobility, has become as binary as the economy. As costs rise, access and completion become more challenging for larger numbers of students. Debt load, part-time attendance (which is now 70% at GCC), and the nation’s graduation gap have grown as costs to students have grown. Education has seemingly become more of a harness of the binary economy than an engine for democracy. Changing the downward spiral of poverty into a widening circle of hope, rebuilding the middle class and increasing the opportunities for social and economic mobility can only happen with the strengthening of our collective commitment to public education.
Post WWII, public education (Pre-K-higher education) was appropriately resourced. Returning Vets and Baby Boomers (of which I am one) certainly benefitted from those “Golden Years of Public Higher Education” in this country (1943-1979). Those that followed, not so much. As a very proud community college graduate, I can tell you first hand that the vehicle to achieve that increasingly elusive American Dream was real. We can’t let the dreams and aspirations for a better life die with my generation of community college students.
Horace Mann, the first secretary of Education in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts wrote that public education was “the balancing wheel of the social machine.” I don’t know what he would think today. Fewer and fewer families can afford the costs of a public college education and the annual $70,000 price tag for private colleges and universities are now available only to the 1%. These are not challenges for the weak of heart and mind. The easy answers to the questions about funding for public higher education are long gone. But, I know we can do better.
And here is the good news about you and Greenfield Community College. Although it might not be as true in the aggregate throughout the United States, here at GCC, lives are changing for the better, families are then growing stronger and so too this community—one student at a time. You help to make good on the promise of a college education, even at a time when state allocations are driving up costs to students and their families. I can’t thank you enough for your ongoing and passionate commitment to the students, faculty, and staff of GCC. You are truly local heroes, one and all.
With best and warm regards, Bob