In Tuesday night’s State of the Union speech, President Obama raised the prospect of eliminating tuition for qualifying students enrolled at one of the more than 1,000 public community colleges across the Country.
Debates over such a plan’s fiscal chances and mechanics of delivery are certain but shouldn’t detract from the larger point that community colleges are in the news and recognized at the highest political levels as essential to national competitiveness.
A recent report by the New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee stated that as of 2010, “community college students make up 58 perceent of New Mexico’s total postsecondary education population, exceeding the national average of 50 percent.” Nationally, and in New Mexico, community colleges serve a diverse student body, comprising entrants from high school to older populations seeking third careers. The LFC report also indicates that “minority, first-generation, academically and economically at-risk students are more likely to attend community colleges.”
The rich complexion of students at community colleges is often termed non-traditional, brought by a comparison with customs from decades ago that would have us similarly label cell-phone calls unconventional. Community colleges are becoming, and in some areas they already are, the primary means for dispensing postsecondary education amid the circumstances of modern life. And modern, gainful employment will increasingly require postsecondary education.
Our support for community colleges, beginning with our own UNM-LA, is among the surest investments we can make in others, and for ourselves.