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Published Jan. 22, 2015, in
The Dallas Morning News
by Dr. Joe May
Completing college isn’t an end; it’s a beginning. Faculty, administrators and staff who work for the Dallas County Community College District and the nation’s other community colleges know that. They understand students who complete their degrees or certificates have earned credentials that admit them to the world of jobs, skills and opportunities that help them build successful careers.
That’s why I believe the White House proposal to provide a free community college education to all Americans is a model for success. Giving each American the postsecondary educational foundation that he or she must have to compete in today’s global economy is critical. It also builds on the strong commitment that DCCCD and other community colleges already have made to provide a low-cost, high-quality education. With this type of opportunity, students can get the education and training they need to obtain employment with high salaries in high-demand fields, regardless of their financial situation.
Of course, it’s not easy and it’s not free. We as taxpayers help with the bill; in turn, DCCCD students would commit to complete their education. They learn skills (as they do now) that open the door to jobs that pay well — a living wage that is necessary for America’s middle class to retool, rebuild and resurrect itself. Those new wage-earners then can support their families, broaden the tax base and contribute to the economic success of their communities. It’s a win-win situation.
The White House proposal states those community college students must enroll at least half-time, earn a 2.5 grade-point average and make steady progress toward completing their program. Those requirements are reasonable and achievable.
DCCCD and other community colleges would be expected to offer programs that are either academic programs that fully transfer credits to local public four-year colleges and universities, or occupational training programs with high graduation rates and that lead to in-demand degrees and certificates. Community colleges also must adopt promising and evidence-based institutional reforms to improve student outcomes.
Under the proposal, federal funding would cover three-quarters of the average cost of community college. Participating states would be expected to contribute the remaining funds necessary to eliminate tuition for eligible students. After many years of reduced state contributions to community colleges and higher education in general, this state contribution — with federal dollars — would make funding for the proposal complete.
Additionally, the administration proposed the new American Technical Training Fund, which would expand innovative, high-quality technical training programs across the country. The fund would award programs that have strong employer partnerships and include work-based learning opportunities, provide accelerated training and accommodate part-time work. Community colleges are the nation’s and corporate America’s best technical training resource — we have been, for decades.
This proposal brings us full circle. Completion is critical to student success. Those credentials are critical to area employers who need skilled workers. Those businesses, in turn, can compete in a global economy and pay their workforce well. Our communities benefit, our country benefits, and most of all, our students and our citizens benefit.
The proposal helps DCCCD do what we’ve always strived to do: help students complete their programs, go to work or transfer for more education, and then actively contribute to the workforce, the economy, their families and the community. The program is, indeed, a model for success and one that DCCCD can implement with the support of excellent faculty, targeted programs and support from the business community.
As chancellor of DCCCD and president of the higher education organization Rebuilding America’s Middle Class, I look forward to working with state leaders, Congress and the administration to explore and advance this proposal for success.
Joe D. May is chancellor of the Dallas County Community College District. Reach him at