Two free years of community college could be a step in the right direction

By Justin Adams

When it comes to spending tax-payers’ money, what could be more important than the accessibility of higher education?

The State of the Union was this week, but before the address, President Obama had already given a preview of certain subjects he would address. In a short video clip uploaded to YouTube a couple weeks ago, the President introduced an idea to make the first two years of community college free, for “everyone who’s willing to work for it.” In contrast to rising tuition rates, this is a step in the right direction — treating higher education as a public good that should be invested in.

This is just the latest development in a long history of the gradual liberalization of education. During the Middle Ages, very few people were literate in Europe. Then the invention of the printing press opened up the possibilities of reading and education to everyone. And by everyone, I mean rich white men. For a long time, the right to higher education was reserved exclusively for the upper class. Then, following World War II, the G.I. Bill made it possible for lower and middle class war veterans to gain an affordable education. It’s no coincidence that this first generation to gain widespread access to education would go on to be referred to as “the greatest generation.” By investing in the education of its youth, the United States would go on to be a world leader in science, trade and technology for years, making America what it is today. This plan by the Obama administration will hopefully spark a new era of innovation and ingenuity.

Although President Obama has yet to unveil the details of the proposal, many are already doubting the feasibility of providing two free years of community college. It is estimated that the program would cost 60 billion dollars in its first 10 years. That may seem like a lot, but maybe not quite so much when you consider that the combined cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will total over four trillion dollars. If we can spend trillions of dollars investing in countries on the other side of the world, surely we can invest in our own.

In the words of Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” There are a seemingly endless number of problems in the world: war, disease, environmental issues, social inequality, market failures, violence and many more in the future that we might not even be able to imagine today. If America wants to lead the charge to solve these problems, the best thing we can do is to invest in education and give youth today the tools they need to become the leaders of tomorrow. Of course, more could be done, such as extending the program to include four-year universities and helping to alleviate existing student debt, but at least we’re moving in the right direction.

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