It's often been said that education is the great equalizer. But in 2014, access to education is hardly equal. Although college is not always the preferred destination for everyone, those with the goal of a college degree should have an equal opportunity to access it.
Economists have proved the benefits of a college degree. A 2013 Pew Charitable Trusts study found that a four-year college degree promotes upward mobility. More recently, the Economic Policy Institute reported the widest gap between the pay of college graduates versus non-college peers; college graduates averaged $98 more an hour in 2013 than people without a degree.
Unfortunately, for U.S. students, the rising cost of tuition is making it even more difficult to obtain a higher education.
As a student in a private university, I'm aware of the rising costs of postsecondary education. My classmates agree that financing our education often can be more challenging than many of our classes. While we understand the costs of a private education, they continue to increase -- making it more difficult for students to repay loans and even discouraging others from enrolling.
But private colleges aren't alone in facing higher tuition costs; public colleges face similar increases, too. Since 1992, net tuition and fees have risen 60 percent at public institutions, says the College Board.
For the past 15 years, financial aid has existed primarily in the form of loans with federal grants declining. According to The Project on Student Debt, a nonprofit research organization, seven in 10 college graduates had student debt averaging $29,400 per borrower last year.
It is just as important today as it was 70 years ago at the end of World War II for our government to encourage affordable postsecondary education. Moreover, state-led initiatives to expand access to college can have far-reaching impacts.
To increase college affordability, some states have proposed free two-year community college tuition to high school graduates (Tennessee actually approved it). That option allows students who wouldn't have chosen college over work, or who can't afford a four-year investment in college, the opportunity to seek a higher education.
Notably, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has allocated $3.2 million for a College Access Innovation Grant to help low-income students enroll at and complete college. This initiative and other programs, such as the state Tuition Assistance Program and the SUNY Educational Opportunity Program, make college more affordable. In this respect, our state joins many others in widening college access.
New York's initiatives now need to ensure students complete degree programs, particularly students who transition from community college to a four-year school. The key to economic mobility is not attending college, but graduating with a degree. Last week, Stony Brook University said it would join others in trying to shorten how long it takes to get a diploma.
State-led initiatives to increase accessibility and affordability for postsecondary education are essential to keeping our country competitive. Such investments in education would help us try to keep pace with our global competitors.
And that helps us all.