As a new administration comes into power amid the pandemic, an Obama-era official thinks the country needs to rethink the value of higher education while addressing the student debt crisis.
“I've had a lot of experience in community colleges, and they were virtually free after the GI Bill, [when] the country came forward and together said, ‘We are going to give this benefit of college opportunity to every GI, every veteran returning,’” Martha Kanter, former U.S. undersecretary of higher education in the Obama administration, told Yahoo Finance Live (video above).
Kanter is now the CEO of College Promise, a national non-partisan campaign that supports funding the first two years of higher education (particularly community colleges), and “what I see is that we've got to get everyone in this country understanding that education beyond high school has got to be fundamental to the American dream, to the American life,” she said. “And so we've got to work on college for all.”
‘We've got to get more students in the pipeline’
Undergraduate enrollment across the country has dropped by 4.4% amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, according to data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, while enrollment at community colleges dipped by more than 9%.
“We've got to get more students in the pipeline,” Kanter said.
College access should be high on the Biden-Harris administration’s list, she argued, by making community college heavily subsidized for individuals who come from families making less than $125,000 a year.
New Mexico announced a plan in 2019 to make tuition at its public colleges and universities free for all state residents, regardless of family income. However, after oil prices crashing and revenue loss, the state pulled back on that promise and instead provided tuition assistance for those enrolled in two-year colleges. Other states from Oregon to Maryland are also finding it hard to keep their commitments.
And as many Americans consider returning to school for short- or long-term programs amid the pandemic and extended unemployment, Kanter said that our understanding of college students has to change.
“America needs to take a long view — that youth and adults, families are going to need to continue their education while they work,” she said. “We've got to make more people aware that most of our students are going to work while they go to school, even in high school and middle school.”
And while the disruption to in-person learning is “really a major problem in the country,” she added, there is hope for the future: “This is not a lost generation. This is an amazingly challenged generation.”
Aarthi is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @aarthiswami.