A New Era for Community Colleges

During the presidential election Americans were subject to endless plans and promises. Both candidates touted their credentials for building a new economy, improving education, strengthening America's security, and promoting a society that belongs to everyone. Those goals remain critical to ensuring opportunity for everyone and strength in our economy. Those goals can be achieved if we continue to support America's 1,600 community colleges

A strong economy ultimately depends on a strong workforce. It is America's community colleges that provide accessible licensure, certificate, and degree programs that lead to relevant and good-paying jobs. For those transferring to a university or those securing a meaningful spot in the workforce, community colleges are the most affordable and accessible option. High school graduates, returning veterans, single parents, displaced workers, and older adults are all well-served by the breadth of opportunity that these colleges provide. We should see them as a partner in moving our country forward. We should strive to build on the progress we have already made.

As the chancellor of a large, complex, diverse community college system, I see the needs of our students every day. Gone is the time when a high school diploma was enough to land a good-paying job and achieve family security. Today's college graduates will earn an average of $570,000 more over the course of their careers than high school graduates. An educated workforce is no longer a luxury but an economic imperative.

We know that social and economic mobility is at the forefront of Americans' minds. They said so on election day, they continue to say so across cities and communities questioning how we step forward under a Trump presidency. We must make clear to all our leaders in government and education to support students who face the most barriers. Far too many of these Americans see college as an elusive dream. We can and must provide the promise of a college education for all.

We do this because we cannot build an advanced populace by ignoring those who represent the majority of the population. Latinos and Asians are the fastest growing ethnic groups in our nation. Along with African Americans, they have not received equal access and support needed to successfully complete a credential. In addition, many rural Whites have been left behind from the 21st Century economy. Too often, elite institutions pay lip service to low-income and first generation students, perpetuating the wide gaps we see in academic achievement. That is where our focus needs to be.

We now know that student debt is an ever-growing threat to our future and to our collective economy. Any higher education public policy agenda must continue to address this threat. Making college opportunity affordable will lead to student success and ensure low debt.

We should also build upon the success of President Obama's higher education initiatives. By cutting student loan interest rates, creating refinancing opportunities, expanding Pell awards, and carving out additional work study opportunities for students, making college debt-free will be within reach.

There is so much we can do on a national and state level. Regardless of the initiative, community colleges occupy the best position to impact all Americans in all types of communities. Those still reeling from economic downturns in the heartland to those seeking innovative workforce solutions in urban areas all have a place within our community colleges.