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Another Voice: Affordable, quality college education should be a priority

By George Kelley

Freshman college students and their parents will experience sticker shock when the costs of a college education arrive in the form of tuition bills and dormitory fees.

Parents might wonder why college has become so expensive. Some students will graduate with student loans in the $100,000 range. Around 1989, most of the states started to cut their funding to higher education. While college costs increased, the states paid less and less of their share. State funding of colleges and universities has been cut by half since 1989. And who got stuck making up the difference? The students and their parents.

College used to be affordable a generation ago. Now, many students will be paying tuition equivalent to buying a new car every year for four years. And that’s assuming the student graduates in four years. An increasing number of students find graduating in four years impossible because of funding issues and the unavailability of required courses.

Although most new students look forward to entering college, the sad truth is that over 40 percent of the students who begin their education this fall semester will still be struggling to graduate six years from now. That’s a statistic that won’t be mentioned at college orientation.

There are many reasons why students don’t graduate on time. But the reason I see time and again is that some students are not academically prepared for college, but they go anyway.

Colleges and universities offer extensive remedial courses to provide the learning students didn’t acquire in high school. Many students spend their first year at college grappling with algebra and basic reading and writing courses to learn the reading, writing and math skills required to do college-level work. That delays graduation, since remedial courses don’t satisfy college graduation course requirements.

So the college experience for many students will mean struggling in remedial courses and coping with the grind of retaking required courses until they finally pass them. Meanwhile, college costs will increase (Erie Community College is raising its tuition $300) and graduation may prove elusive for many students.

Higher education is facing the same diminishment of quality that the K-12 grades experience. The educational bureaucracy proliferates while fewer and fewer resources reach the students in the classroom. Art and music programs are eliminated, but more administrators are hired.

Affordable quality education needs to be a priority if we want a growing, vibrant economy. Too many children face a jobless future because their dumbed-down “education” is bogus and access to higher education costs too much.

George Kelley, of North Tonawanda, is a professor of business administration at Erie Community College’s City Campus.