Editorial: Educated investment
Up until about a century ago, students went to school through about eighth grade before leaving to work on the family farm or to get a job in a factory to help support the family. High school, which was not commonly provided by the government, was a luxury.
As technology increased and society progressed, it was determined that eight years of education was no longer sufficient to thrive in an advancing world. Local governments responded to the changing world and started extending their public education offerings by four years. Public high school was born and quickly became the standard around the country because it was necessary.
A similar situation exists today. The increasingly technological world demands higher levels of education. A college degree today is about equivalent to what a high school diploma was 100 years ago. College is no longer a luxury for most industries. It is increasingly a necessity.
So it is time for the government to again respond to a changing world by making college part of a public education.
Gov. Gina Raimondo has proposed doing exactly that. Her plan would provide two free years of post-secondary education to all in-state students. Students could choose to go to the Community College of Rhode Island, earning an associate’s degree at no cost, or they could pay their way through their first two years at Rhode Island College or the University of Rhode Island, finishing off the last two years of their bachelor’s degree for free. Either way, students can affordably attain some college education, a boon to their career prospects and the achievement of the state as a whole.
The question, as always, is what will it cost. The answer is surprisingly little. The governor’s office estimates that at its most expensive, the plan will cost about $30 million a year. While that may sound like a lot of money, it is a minuscule part of the state’s $9 billion budget — less than one-half of 1 percent of the state’s annual spending.
The money would likely be made up in revenue growth, which has been averaging 2 percent a year in Rhode Island since the last recession ended. But even when the economy inevitably takes another downturn, eating up whatever surpluses have been gained, the state can surely find 0.3 percent worth of waste to cut in the budget in order to fund something as critical as its population’s education. In fact, having a properly educated populace is the best way to shorten such an economic downturn, or prevent one altogether.
College education is no longer optional. It is an increasing necessity that all should have the opportunity to achieve, no matter what industry they choose to pursue. The state General Assembly should approve the governor’s plan and allow it to take affect beginning with the class of 2017. The cost is minimal, and the benefits are monumental.