Post-secondary education should be available to all

Higher education should be made accessible to all those who are ambitious and motivated. As college costs continue to rise, students are looking for a way to get a quality education at the cheapest cost.

Students have to choose between universities, which provide specialized study at a more expensive price, and community colleges, which offer general education and less specialization at a cheaper rate.

Universities and community colleges in Florida are debating with each other as to which is more qualified to cater to students seeking four-year degrees.

In an article in Wednesday’s St. Petersburg Times, Ron Matus wrote that “the state Board of Education discussed a strategic plan for the community college system that includes increasing the number of baccalaureate degrees awarded from 250 last year to 2,000 by 2015.”

With community colleges trying to pick up steam, “some (Florida) universities – under the control of the Board of Governors – see an erosion of their turf,” Matus continued.

The concern of those universities may be justified. The Oracle has previously reported that the cost per credit hour at Hillsborough Community College is $66 while the cost at USF is $101. (“New enrollment of black students down at USF,” Sept. 26.)

But before getting into a power struggle, both community colleges and universities must keep in mind that the highest priority is to provide a college education to Florida’s prospective students – not battle for student dollars.

Matus wrote that Carolyn Roberts, chairwoman of the Board of Governors, said she is not worried that community colleges want to grant more four-year degrees, but said that the Board of Governors is more concerned about the quality and integrity of the education that students would receive.

This is a legitimate concern and can be resolved. If the two boards are willing to work jointly on the matter, they will be able to ensure that four-year degree programs at universities and community colleges are equally matched.

If changes are made and the standards of the state’s community colleges become equivalent to those of state universities, this may change the identity of the community college to prospective students.

Community colleges serve many purposes for deserving students who are, for various reasons, unable to attend state universities. Some may not be able to afford the financial burden, while others may not be able to make the sojourn to a school far away from their home. Others still may not have done well in high school but would like to improve their grades so they can transfer to a university to finish their education.

If community colleges try to become equal to universities in terms of program depth, would they still be able to offer these financial and educational opportunities to students at the rates they do?

That remains to be seen.

Regardless of whether community colleges undergo changes, universities must cater to the needs of students to keep pace. If universities want to justify higher tuition rates, more hands-on involvement and less assembly-line education – which makes students feel as if they are just a number, perhaps with a dollar sign attached to it – are required. Cheaper, or at least more competitive rates, may also be necessary to draw working-class students.

In these times when our economy is not as strong as it used to be, America needs its college graduates to stay competitive in many industries worldwide. We need not make it ridiculously easy for all to get an education, because a higher education is not meant to be ridiculously easy to obtain.

However, it should be accessible to all those willing to work for it.