The Cost of a College Education?

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In a recent article in the trade publication, Inside Higher Education, Ms. Ashely Smith describes the actions of a community college in Tennessee to make education more accessible to its citizens by making it free. Yes, free. Volunteer State Community College is one of many community colleges in Tennessee to provide a tuition free program called Tennessee Reconnect, an expansion of the state-wide Tennessee Promise program. It provides tuition-free degree programs to all its state residents.

The article highlights a family who most of its adult members have attended some college but never finished. The costs were prohibitive and all needed to work in order to make ends meet financially at home. The program provided a real option to those who wanted to complete their post-secondary education but were not in a financial position to do so.

This article made me reflect on the popular media buzz surrounding the relevance and value of a post-secondary education. The tone of the rhetoric has mostly been negative – and it divides us along political lines. Despite that fact, both sides said that cost is the main issue, but is that really the case?

Writing for Business Insider Online, another author, Ms. Abby Jackson, described a recent poll about political beliefs surrounding education: 43% of Democrats and 28% of Republicans believe a college education is worth the expense. One has to wonder, if cost really is the most important issue, then shouldn’t these figures be more similar if education was made free? Well, the article provides more insights. When asked if college tuition should be free, 74% of Democrats and 31% of Republicans answered yes. So, then cost is not the issue, but politics is.

If so, then let’s dispense with the cost discussion. Make education free like they have in Tennessee.

Thankfully the leadership in Tennessee is seeing the bigger picture and providing a pathway for its residents to earn a college education. Helping with the expense removes one very important obstacle for many to rethink their educational goals. On average, those who have a bachelor’s degree earn about 67% more than those with only a high school diploma.

For me, this is a Win-Win. Not only does the state produce better-educated citizens, these citizens then go on to land better paying jobs and contribute to support schools, infrastructure projects, and community services. We all want good schools for our children. Likewise we also want access to post-secondary education for ourselves. Education should be a priority for all of us. The discussion about the cost of education needs to be reframed as an investment in people and our common future together.

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This blog post is part of a newsletter I publish weekly called The Gigster 'Zine. It is a production of the Colégas Group, an organization that seeks to offer new opportunities for anyone with a college degree. To learn more about us, to receive valuable strategies for improvement, and to find innovative employment opportunities, sign up for the complete newsletter at colegasgroup.com.