Earlier this week, Gov. Bill Haslam announced a plan to make two years of community college and technical school free for all students with high school diplomas or equivalency degrees.
The plan, announced during his State of the State address Monday, is so radical yet commonsense that I have to applaud the governor.
For years, public discourse has revolved around the need for a better-educated workforce in America in general and Tennessee in particular. Education is the foundation upon which so much in our society is built: a better-educated workforce entices more companies to establish locations in the region; those companies hire for positions offering often-higher wages; those employees earn more money, which they can then spend in other businesses; this in turn puts more money back into local coffers.
And that barely skims the surface. The ripple effect is far-reaching.
Which is why it makes sense to make education as attainable as possible for as many students as possible.
While it’s true that federal student aid programs have made paying for a college education easier for many people, it’s not a panacea.
At Middle Tennessee State University, the total in-state cost of tuition and fees for four semesters – the same amount of time Haslam’s plan would cover – is $15,092. And that’s just for 12 credit hours per semester. For 18 credit hours per semester, that cost increases to $16,268.
While the cost to attend a community college or technical school is generally considerably less expensive, that cost is still normally in the thousands of dollars.
Even students eligible for student aid, especially if that aid is just in the form of loans, often tend to think twice when they see the sticker price. Sometimes it’s fear about incurring large amounts of debt, and sometimes it’s unwillingness to forego the wages they could be earning those hours they would have to devote to school.
That decision becomes a lot easier when you’re told it’s free.
I’d wager many, many more students would opt to continue their educations.
The overall benefits of the plan would be well worth the estimated yearly cost for the plan – $34 million, paid for from surplus state lottery revenues.
Although the plan is just that at this stage, it seems to have generally favorable responses from the general assembly, which makes me think there’s a good chance it could come to fruition.
If it does, I think we’ll see major changes in enrollment at not just community colleges and technical schools, but also at the four-year colleges and universities.
All-in-all, it’s going to be interesting to see how this all plays out, but I’m optimistic.
Sara McManamy-Johnson is the digital content director for The Lebanon Democrat and Wilson County News. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @wilsoncoreports.