April is Community College Month. Let’s celebrate by ensuring college is a right–not a privilege

Community colleges are places of discovery that help many students shape, pursue, and realize their dreams. April is National Community College Month—a time for celebrating community colleges and applauding the faculty and staff members who are instrumental at every step of the way.

I’m a proud member of the board of the College Promise Campaign, a national movement to create programs that let students start and complete a community college education without winding up in debt up to their degrees.

“Promise” programs vary from place to place but they share some core principles, including the goal of making the first two years of community college “universal, free, and accessible.” Far too many students are leaving college with way too much debt. (Check out our Degrees Not Debt campaign to see how we’re trying to change that.)

Several states offer some form of tuition-free community college, including Oregon and Tennessee—which in 2014 became the first state to pass such a plan. San Francisco offers what Forbes magazine says is the most generous program: free tuition for residents who can demonstrate financial need, no matter when they finished high school or what their academic record was.

Promise programs were proposed recently in California and New Jersey. Last month, Baltimore County, Md. joined the movement with a proposal to pay whatever costs remain after students receive grants and financial aid.

Most of the programs, like the Baltimore County one, don’t cover everything, and all students are not eligible for them. But they are a step in the right direction.

A year ago, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and U.S. Rep Pramila Jayapal introduced the “College For All” bill in Congress, which would make community college free for all, and public universities free for most, Americans.

“Higher education in America,” Sanders said, “should be a right for all, not a privilege for a few.”

And let the church of educators say “Amen.” The sixth-graders I taught in Utah were smart and curious, with big dreams and enough energy and ambition to light up the school. My heart ached for those who had the potential to do well in college, but not the resources to get there.

That’s why I’m part of the College Promise Campaign: because all of our students, regardless of how much their families earn, deserve the opportunity for a great education.

April 23-27 is “Promise Proud!” week, when you can celebrate your community college programs as well as your proposals for making college more accessible. Spread the word about what’s happening where you are on social media using #PromiseProud.

On April 26 from 3 PM to 4 PM Eastern Daylight Time, College Promise is hosting the “Promise Proud Twitter Chat,” during which they’ll take questions about why Promise programs are needed and how they’ve impacted communities.

But at the same time we’re advocating for universally free community college, we must speak out for the educators who devote their careers to students on these campuses.

Adjunct professors teach most community college courses, and they generally don’t get the support they need. They rarely have offices to meet one-on-one with students, lack the development opportunities that can help them grow as professionals, and often take second and third jobs to make a decent living.

For the sake of our students and the educators who help guide their journey, let’s make a College Promise. We can do so much better.

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