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Guest Opinion | Dr. Edward C. Ortell: Free Community College: The Foundation for Monumental Change

Published on Friday, April 30, 2021 | 7:23 pm

When historic events converge, historic change cannot be far behind. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “We are not makers of history. We are made by history.”

First came a global pandemic. Next, an economic downturn, characterized by food and housing insecurities, skyrocketing prices and massive layoffs. Pessimism followed, with a recent poll finding that 58 percent of Americans rated the U.S. economy as “not good” or “poor.”

In that setting, after nearly 100 days in office, President Joe Biden has proposed two years of free community college education, “…so that every student has the ability to obtain a degree or certificate.”

Hailed as a “game-changer” and a “monumental shift in the financing of higher education,” the Biden administration has proposed this historic investment in the institutions that have proven their ability to transform low- and middle-income wage earners into highly paid professionals and paraprofessionals: community colleges.

California Community College Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley described the plan as “…an investment in America’s most resilient students…” and the “…right recipe to speed the post–pandemic economic recovery for working Americans.”

Currently, about one in five Americans says they are worse off financially than they were before the COVID-19 shutdowns. Many families are worried about their ability to keep paying rent and putting food on the table. Those actively seeking employment are finding that, while hiring has picked up for those with associate and bachelor’s degrees, hiring remains weak for those without any college.

Enter the nation’s community colleges, with their famous ability to nimbly adapt workforce training to industry demands. They also provide low cost, high quality courses and make education accessible 24/7, with rolling admissions and online courses. And they do all this and more while offering tutoring, counseling, and other student services that ensure student success.

While COVID-19 remains a threat to the lives and livelihoods of many Americans and people around the world, there is an air of optimism that seems to quietly proclaim that positive change is on the way.

Free community college will open the door to higher education to thousands of Americans who are on their way back into the workforce. It’s a good step toward a healthy, prosperous future and a brighter tomorrow.

About the Author

Dr. Edward C. Ortell is Professor Emeritus at Pasadena City College and a community college textbook author. He has served as the Executive Director of the Pasadena Education Association and as a member of the California Community College Trustees (CCCT) state board of directors.

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