Paying for a college education has become a burden many Americans can no longer afford. Tuition has outpaced the rate of inflation for the last 16 years, some private schools are charging more than $40,000 annually and students are being forced to take on unprecedented levels of debt from an industry that is mired in scandals.
Moreover, not only has the federal government done little to improve the situation, it has made things worse: In 2006, with the passage of the Deficit Reduction Act, the federal government cut $12.7 billion from the education budget— the largest cut in the nation's history. Moreover, Pell Grants, a key source of aid for low-income students, have remained stagnant and only pay for about a third of a college education, down from 60 percent 20 years ago.
The consequences of this are grave. According to Campus Progress, it is estimated that between 2001 and 2010 "two million academically qualified students will not go to college because they can't afford it."
In response, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has released a bold proposal that would make community college free to everyone in the state by 2015. "We must create an integrated, comprehensive educational system that nurtures and develops students through each critical phase of development," he said in his recently unveiled education plan. "In today's economy, a high school diploma is not enough."
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His plan for community colleges is the cornerstone of a more sweeping initiative that would also include universal pre-school. If enacted Massachusetts would be the first state in America to provide free education past the high school level.
''There's no other state that has universal free tuition,'' Jim Hermes, a senior legislative associate with the American Association of Community Colleges, told the New York Times. ''It would be a very significant move, given the needs of the workforce.''
"We in the Commonwealth know education transforms lives," said Patrick in a press release. "It can lift the spirit of one student and raise the hopes of an entire generation. It can lead them to their dreams, teach them to work harder, reach further, and do better for themselves, their families, and their community."
In a country that so often values economic growth it is indeed a sweet victory to see a public leader value intellectual growth as well. And while there is much work to be done on the cost-of-college crisis that our nation faces, Patrick's proposal is powerful step in the right direction.
Katrina Vanden Heuvel is editor of The Nation. Michael Corcoran, a former Nation intern and freelance journalist residing in Boston. His work has appeared in The Nation, the Boston Globe and Campus Progress. he can be reached at www.michaelcorcoran.blogspot.com. Please send us your own ideas for "sweet victories" by emailing to email@example.com
© 2007 The Nation