Amid lofty rhetoric and a discussion of inequality in America, President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday featured a bold education proposal — eliminating the cost of community college. Although Congress is unlikely to tackle such an initiative, it is one that should not exit the American consciousness as quickly as it has entered.

From 2000 to 2010, attendance rates at community college in America rose by 2.5 million students, reaching an enrollment of 8 million in 2011 according to the U.S. News & World Report. The rise has coincided with the understanding that, in an economy still struggling to regain its footing, non-traditional forms of higher education are crucial in expanding opportunity and growing our economy.

Expanding access to community college obviously comes at a cost. A similar plan has been put into place in the state of Tennessee, which has shown that, with the proper oversight, emphasis can be put on accessibility in addition to keeping costs low for taxpayers. President Obama’s ambitious proposal requires a sensible way to make it a reality.

The proposal speaks to the needs of those Americans who may not have the resources or the time to invest in a four-year degree at schools across the country.

The reality of today is that some higher education is crucial for social mobility. But with consistently rising college tuition rates, this proposal seeks to create an alternative path for those that need a different way to achieve their higher education goals.

Community colleges have done a wealth of good for so many across this nation. They are able to give students access to classes in fields that require more specialized skills, such as computer science, engineering and the technology industry. As much as this nation is billed as a land of opportunity, if Americans are not able to acquire the necessary skills and training, the appellation is meaningless.
It is easy to look at this proposal through the eyes of a political cynic, but the mission of expanding access to higher education is nevertheless extremely important and should not be pushed aside so easily.

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