College Affordability: Front & Center
August 20, 2015
Expanding the access and affordability of higher education is a long-simmering issue that has erupted onto the national political scene.
Presidential candidates are finally addressing on the campaign trail what too many American families have had to address at the kitchen table: access to a college degree – long the key to opportunity and economic prosperity – simply is not a realistic goal.
Two primary dilemmas face millions of prospective students from lower- and even middle-income families: the all-too-common belief that college is not financially possible and therefore not pursued; and the failure to complete degree programs because of financial pressures. Failure to complete college is especially harmful because it can leave students in debt, but with no degree to show for it and no good way to pay for it.
The issue is front and center in Denver, with the emergence of a proposed ballot initiative called College Matters. The initiative would ask Denver voters to raise the city’s sales tax by just .08 percent, or 8 cents on a $100 purchase, generating $10 million a year to help deserving Denver students access, pay for and complete college. The City Council recently gave initial approval to placing it on the November ballot.
According to the College Matters campaign, in just five years, 74% of jobs in Denver will require a post-secondary degree, but only 43% of Denver residents 25 years and older have a bachelor’s degree or higher.
DFER Colorado has endorsed the Denver proposal, believing college access and affordability must be dealt with in a meaningful way. After all, the value of a high-quality K-12 education – which is what DFER fights for every day – comes in the opportunities it creates. Unfortunately, the door of opportunity is slammed shut for far too many who seek a brighter future for themselves and their families.
The recent release of Hillary Clinton’s New College Compact proposal has given us a progressive model on the federal level that addresses college affordability head-on. Her plan includes:
- Significantly cutting the interest rate on student loans, and providing new financing options for those currently struggling to repay debt;
- Instituting income-based repayment of student loans;
- Most importantly, providing grants to states that guarantee students no-loan tuition at 4-year public colleges and universities, and free community college tuition.
The plan would cost $350 billion over 10 years, but families would have some skin in the game with affordable and realistic contributions toward costs.
Many education and economic policy experts feel this one of the most pressing concerns in our country, and stress the importance of finding viable solutions to a problem that will continue to be a drag on our economy and hinder future generations.
Clinton’s is a bold idea on the federal level. Denver’s is a bold idea on the local level. Good thing – it’s long past time for bold ideas when it comes to college affordability.
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