College education: an essential right

Allison Rafert, Opinion Editor

For a long time, I had a preconceived notion of what constituted a “real” college. I regarded community colleges and similar schools as an education intended for neglectful students, something that was beneath me.
Everything changed when I attended my brother’s graduation from Renton Technical College.
At the beginning of the ceremony, the speaker asked for all of the graduates who held a job while attending the college to stand up. Then, he asked for all of the people for whom English was a second language. Then all of the parents. Finally, the speaker asked for all of the graduates to stand up who were first-generation college students. Nearly everyone was standing.
Children were cheering on their mothers from the stadium seats, and fathers were speaking about how they intended to show their children the importance of college. At this ceremony, I realized that this education—although not provided at a four-year university—is real, is meaningful, and is something everything should have access to, no matter their financial circumstances.
Yet, even with the primarily low cost of Renton Tech, not everyone can afford the tuition or time required to earn a degree. However, because success is so closely correlated with a college education in the United States, many people are willing to make both financial and familial sacrifices to graduate—but these sacrifices should not be required to earn a higher degree.
If the government provides tuition-free college, these sacrifices would be eliminated, and everyone would have the option to earn a degree. And, contrary to some concerns of augmented taxes, more people would benefit than just graduates.
Economically, people with a college degree earn a larger salary, subsequently allowing for them to contribute to the local economy in greater ways. Moreover, tuition-free college would eliminate the crippling amount of student debt that currently prohibits college graduates from immediate success. Instead of moving back in with their parents, graduates would have the opportunity to buy a home and invest in the community earlier than normal.
No money would be lost in providing tuition-free college—in fact, more than just the economy would benefit: a higher degree also allows for people to contribute to society with their newly acquired skills and knowledge.
Even simply providing tuition-free community college would make a difference in the lives of numerous people, just like the graduates of Renton Tech. And with all of the benefits it would give society, the economy, and the graduates, there is no reason something as essential as a college education should be a privilege of the wealthy.