by Luckson Lukau
When I came to the United States in 2016 from Congo, I came to pursue the American dream. I came because this country is about opportunity. Last month, after much hard work, I became a U.S. citizen. It was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.
Now, as a full citizen, I am continuing my pursuit of my American dream by working toward a business degree from South Seattle College. For me, like so many, the opportunity to attend college is a game changer and an important step toward achieving economic stability and the chance at advancement, the full opportunity of this country.
But truth be told, I am one of the lucky ones. For far too many, the chance at a degree is out of reach.
The recent action by the Biden administration to cancel between $10,000 and $20,000 in student debt is a lifesaver for many, including myself. But while it will help millions of students and those who have graduated, it will not fix the broader problem — the increasing cost of tuition. While the debt cancellation is important, the skyrocketing cost of tuition remains a barrier for far too many.
And with costs going up every year, more and more of us are simply not going to be able to afford to go to college.
And while Democrats in Congress also passed, and the president signed into law, the Inflation Reduction Act this summer, which contains many good things, from prescription drug reform to the largest-ever investment in fighting climate change, one proposal that fell out of the plan was the Democrats’ plan for tuition-free community college.
With federal action now stalled on the issue, it is vital that our leaders here at the state level step up and advance solutions to the skyrocketing cost of college.
Nineteen states across the country currently offer free community college. It is a proven policy with proven results. Free community college will not only give more students across the state access to a higher education, it will also help the state economically by fostering a more educated workforce that will lead to a bigger tax base. It is a win-win. And Gov. Inslee and legislators in Olympia should advance legislation in the next regular session to get it done.
For me, the opportunity to attend community college has been a life changer. This is an opportunity students throughout the state should have.
In states that already have free college tuition programs, the programs have proved effective in helping mitigate the current inequities in higher education — and society — by increasing college enrollment, lowering dependence on student loan debt, and improving school completion rates, especially among students of color and lower-income students, who are often the first in their families to attend college.
And let’s be clear: Free community college is not only good for students, it is also good for our economy. If students are able to graduate from college without mountains of debt, they will have more money to put back into our state’s economy. Additionally, students who are able to get a college degree often earn more than those who are not able to attend college. So more college graduates will mean a bigger tax base.
In short, free community college is a win for students and a win for our state.
In this moment of great economic uncertainty, and with the price of college going up every year, students — and our state’s economy — can not afford another year of inaction.
College, like becoming a citizen, is all about opportunity for me. It is an opportunity all in our state should have. It is time for Olympia to finally act on this win-win for our state.
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Luckson Lukau is a student at South Seattle College.
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