By Chelsea Zamora
High school graduates have recently been walking across the stage, receiving their diplomas, and preparing to leave home for the first time. While this is true for some, a good number of students are staying at home and receiving their education from local community colleges.
While many factors play into why one chooses community college, cost plays a major role, especially in low income families. According to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, community college is less than half the cost of attending a regular university, with students saving money on things like tuition and housing expenses. Between the years 2000-2007, there was a 31% increase in students attending a two year college, compared to a 19.9% increase in students attending public universities in Texas. This shows how rapidly the community college system has been expanding.
Community colleges, in associate and certificate programs, struggle with low graduation rates. In Texas, only about 12% of community college students graduate within three years and only 30% graduate in six years. To help solve this rising problem in Texas, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is focused on changing the community college system, starting with Lone Star College and other partnering Texas schools. The foundation has already spent $4 million to help community college students complete academic programs. The goal is to end the cycle of poverty.
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that incomes increase by approximately $10,000 per year with each higher education level. On average, those who graduate with a high school diploma receive a $10,000 increase included in their earnings compared to workers with some high school. Another $10, 000 is added to an income when an associate’s degree is obtained. Those with a bachelor’s degree have an additional $20,000 per year added to their salary. Salaries rise with income level, providing more of an opportunity for a successful and healthy lifestyle.
There is a strong correlation between incarceration and income level. In relation to criminal justice, Texas spends approximately $1.1 billion dollars on inmates with no high school diploma, about $940 million on high school diploma, $234 million on inmates with some college, and only $61 million on inmates with a bachelor degree or higher. The United States incarcerates more people than any other western country. In America, one out of every one hundred people is currently behind bars. We can be number one in incarceration, or we can be number one in education.
Higher education at a two year college or a university can lower crime rates and provide for a better future. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is giving students a hopeful alternative to a life of poverty and crime. When education becomes a higher priority on the American agenda, we can focus more on caps and gowns than on orange jumpsuits.
A third year government student at Harvard University, Chelsea Zamora is serving as a Friends of Justice intern this summer