The curious case of college education
Tuesday, April 18, 2017
Most of us don't trust politicians, but not everything they do is fruitless. Every once in a while, there is news that not only captures attention, but also brings hope.
Two of America's most populated areas are trying to do the right thing when it comes to higher education. Chicago wants proof of post-graduation plans for students to get a high school diploma, while New York state wants to offer a full tuition waiver for families falling in the middle to lower income brackets.
Both programs are still in nascent stages, and there is a lot of ground to be covered for either to go through as regular practices. Even if they don't, they do bring forth certain issues that we need to address today.
America's higher education stats are rather lacking when compared to other countries. Our children need to be reoriented in their thoughts and plans for the future. K-12 administrations and school districts should imbibe the agenda of preparing students for a future that involves college.
In his first presidential address, President Barack Obama boldly stated that he wanted to see global dominance for the U.S. in college completion by 2020. This meant that at least 50 percent of the populace would be college educated by then. We still have a long way to go, but even the barest of suggestions can be a great nudge for our future.
In that light, one should commend Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel for his proposal. Emanuel announced last week that all Chicago high-schoolers will soon need to show a college plan to graduate. If the proposal is approved by the city's board of education, then Chicago would be the first city to adopt such regulation and the first to push higher education so actively.
To clarify, students may show acceptance for any continuing higher education, not just a four-year university. It can be a trade school, community college, internship, apprenticeship or admission to a branch of the armed services.
This can help prevent students from dropping off after high school — which, let's admit, many see as the end point. Emanuel said that our K-12 system is not preparing our students for the modern economy and global competition. This proposed pre-K to college model will be complemented with increased access to higher education and easier tuition schemes, along with free community college for students who have a B average or better.
Maintaining good grades is also one of the key caveats for the recent New York state legislation. Being hailed as the largest experiment in U.S. higher education, the Excelsior Scholarship is a matter of much debate. Just approved, Gov. Andrew Cuomo's program would cover tuition for full-time students at the State University of New York system.
This is one of the boldest and biggest steps taken by an administration to actively address higher education issues. Aimed at helping students from middle and lower income families, it too states that students have to maintain a good GPA, attend full time (two- or four-year programs) and finish on time.
Estimated to cost $163 million per year, it is already facing controversy due to the stipulations attached. Nitpickers have been naming it the "last-dollar program" since students have to apply for federal student aid first.
The program will cover the cost of college education — partially. Even with full tuition waivers, students would still have to fend for themselves when it comes to food, lodging, books and other expenses. We all remember how expenses can add up in college. Still, free tuition could go a long way, especially if more colleges focus on offering aid for other expenses.
The program also requires students to stay put in New York state and work for at least two years, else the waiver will become a loan. The state wants to give back to the taxpayers with the presence of a more educated workforce.
This, of course, has led some to call the state a totalitarian one. Despite these criticisms, it is an opportunity and something more than what we had before. Between the Chicago and New York announcements, if more students end up with college degrees, we have succeeded a little.
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