The question regarding Kevin McCarty and Assembly Democrats’ plan to make the first year of community college free is not whether we can afford it, as the Sacramento Bee editorial asserted, but can we afford not to (“Democrats overpromise more free stuff,” Editorials, March 14)?
California faces a workforce crisis, with experts predicting a shortage of 1.1 million college graduates in the coming years, leaving a critical skills gap. We must find creative ways to encourage young people to pursue and earn college degrees.
And yet, in spite of the affordability of California’s Community College system, we know costs are still a barrier. The financial burdens to attend college extend beyond fees. For too many students, the cost of books and time not spent working can have significant implications for them and their families.
This is why, in part, the concept of guaranteeing a fee-free first year of community college is gathering so much momentum around the state and the nation.
“Promise” programs send a powerful message to our youngest learners that access to college is the right of every Californian. When students grow up without having to worry about if or how they will attend college, they can spend more time honing skills that will start them on their path to success.
Promise programs show great results. In Rancho Cordova, a new partnership between the city and Folsom Lake College has exceeded enrollment expectations. The city of West Sacramento and Sacramento City College have formalized a similar agreement.
Were the state to allocate new money to expand its commitment to all community college students, local colleges like the four that make up the Los Rios Community College District would be poised to leverage those dollars for philanthropic support to address other student needs and wrap-around services.
It’s right to be prudent when looking at spending state resources, especially as analysts warn that another recession is on the horizon. But a forward-thinking education agenda, like the one put forward by McCarty and his Assembly colleagues, would build a strong foundation for economic growth in the years to come.
Brian King is chancellor of Los Rios Community College District.