The rising costs of college have spawned a cottage industry of books and advisers targeting students and their parents. It has led to handwringing about the price of on-campus amenities and prompted legislation in Florida aimed at incentivizing schools to graduate students more quickly.
Indeed, the costs of attending universities in most states have risen faster than cost-of-living benchmarks. The effects of large debts from loans incurred by students have led to wide-ranging debates over the value of higher education.
Nevertheless, each year prospective students seek admission to the most prestigious and costliest schools in the United States. Often those students and their parents are driven by the status associated with attending big-name schools and the promise of high-paying jobs. For high-income families, those costs aren't a problem. But for others ...
Low-income students determined to obtain a college degree have long been guided to more affordable venues such as community colleges. High school graduates from middle-income households have generally aimed above their means but selected fallback schools in case they weren't admitted to selective institutions — or if they simply could not afford high tuition and fees.
These are generalities, of course, but we've all heard these stories.
One scenario for middle-income students is beginning to change, however, according to an April 5 article in The New York Times. The article's headline and subhead deftly summarized the subject: "Middle-Class Families Increasingly Look to Community Colleges. With college prices in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, more middle-class families are looking for ways to spend less for quality education."
The story focused on a successful student who attended a highly rated high school in Pasadena, Calif. Many of her fellow students left for prestigious institutions after graduating from high school, but this young woman decided to attend nearby Pasadena City College for her first two years; her goal is to subsequently transfer to a first-tier university to obtain her bachelor's degree, with more money in the bank than her former classmates will have.
She's not alone. "This is about social norms. More middle-class parents are saying, 'I'm not succumbing to the idea that the only acceptable education is an expensive one,'" Sara Goldrick-Rab, a professor of higher education policy and sociology at Temple University, told the Times.
A recent graduate from Valencia College in Orlando told the Times that he appreciated the small-size classrooms and direct interaction with teaching professors at his community college — a refrain we have heard countless times from students at State College of Florida, which serves Manatee and Sarasota counties.
Although Florida's universities remain a comparative bargain, tuition at SCF is one-half the cost of, say, the University of Florida. What's more, Florida's policy of ensuring that community college graduates can attend a state university provides students with a degree of certainty.
The Legislature has, in recent years, invested significantly in the university system. In light of the financial benefits to students, families and the state, as well as national trends, we hope that the community college system will benefit from substantial investments by Florida in 2019 and beyond.