As the former Executive Diversity Officer at South Puget Sound Community College at Olympia, I know the transformative power of a college degree. I have seen lives changed, opportunities created, and careers created by the opportunity to attend community college. This is an opportunity every student in the state should have.
Nineteen states across the country currently offer free community college. It’s a proven policy with proven results. A free community college will not only allow more students across the state to gain access to higher education, but will also help the state economically.
Washington is expected to become the 20th state to adopt this policy.
In states that already have free college tuition programs, the programs have proven effective in helping to alleviate current inequalities in higher education – and society – by increasing college enrollment, reducing dependency toward student loans and improving college completion rates, especially among students of color and low-income students, who are often the first in their families to attend college.
Coupled with comprehensive services, this policy would increase graduation rates and help open the door to many career opportunities and be an economic boom for our state.
And let’s be clear: a free community college isn’t just good for students, it’s also good for our economy. If students are able to graduate from college without mountains of debt, they will have more money to put back into our state’s economy. Also, students who can get a college degree often earn more than those who can’t attend college. So more college graduates will mean a bigger tax base.
And given the existing economic disparities between ethnic and racial groups within our communities, a free community college would be an effective way to transform the economic realities of communities of color.
It’s a win-win. Governor Inslee and lawmakers in Olympia are expected to advance legislation in the next regular session to make Washington the 20th state.
Many will say that we cannot afford to do this. But they are wrong. The reality is that we cannot afford not to. And the money is available.
According to the latest budget projections, total government revenue is expected to increase by 4.5% between 2021-23 and 2023-25. With total state revenues expected to increase by $1.55 billion between 2021 and 2023 and $1.11 billion between 2023 and 2025, that’s more than enough to cover this needed change to this failing system. .
President Biden’s decision to write off between $10,000 and $20,000 in student debt is a game-changer for many. It was a historic and much-needed action that will improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, especially low-income people, here in Washington.
But that won’t solve the underlying problem of our higher education system – rising tuition fees. While debt cancellation is a big deal, skyrocketing tuition fees are still a hindrance for far too many people in our state.
Because here’s the plain truth: Even after President Biden’s student debt relief and payments pause, higher education, a key stepping stone to the workforce for many, is barely within reach. . This is especially true for low-income communities throughout our state.
While Congress also passed and the President signed into law this summer, the Curbing Inflation Act, which contains many good things, from prescription drug reform to the biggest investment ever in fighting climate change, one proposal that fell out of the plan was the plan for a tuition-free community college.
With federal action now stalled on the issue of college affordability, it is critical that our leaders here at the state level step up and deliver solutions to the skyrocketing cost of college education.
At this time of great economic uncertainty, and with the price of education rising every year, students – and our state’s economy – cannot afford another year of inaction.
It is time for Olympia to finally act and implement this much-needed change to our higher education system.
Parfait Bassalé is the Social Justice and Equity Commissioner for the City of Olympia and sits on the Board of the Olympia School District Education Foundation as well as the Council for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion of Washington State.