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Now that we have heard from the learned Prof. Roger Feldman and his colleagues about why California’s free and reasonably priced public college system doesn’t work (“Three reasons why a plan for free tuition won’t work,” July...

Counterpoint: Thanks to free tuition in Calif., I was able to thrive

Now that we have heard from the learned Prof. Roger Feldman and his colleagues about why California’s free and reasonably priced public college system doesn’t work (“Three reasons why a plan for free tuition won’t work,” July...

Counterpoint: Thanks to free tuition in Calif., I was able to thrive

Now that we have heard from the learned Prof. Roger Feldman and his colleagues about why California’s free and reasonably priced public college system doesn’t work (“Three reasons why a plan for free tuition won’t work,” July 25), we need to hear from someone who went through the system: me.

In 1962, when I was 15 years old, I had a baby out of wedlock. In the “good old days” they didn’t let “girls like me” go back to school. Therefore, I had a child to support on a ninth-grade education. I married, added to my family, divorced. My ex-husband moved to a state that didn’t honor my child support agreement. I was left to support my family on minimum wage ($1.75 per hour then) and the stipend I received from welfare.

At the urging of a co-worker, I enrolled in junior college. That feat was possible only because tuition was free and my kind social worker came up with the money to pay for my books. Turned out, I was quite good at the career track I chose.

I remarried, finished my associate of arts degree (after 5½ years and more remedial classes than I care to remember). Then I was ready to transfer to upper division. I looked at University of California, Irvine, but it was too expensive and it didn’t offer a degree in my field. I chose California State College, Fullerton (later to become California State University, Fullerton). With my husband and I going to school part time and working full time, we were able to obtain our bachelor’s degrees debt-free. I went on to earn an MBA and became certified in my field.

A professor from whom I had taken several classes encouraged me to come back to my alma mater to teach. I did. And who did I find? Me! When I taught day classes, my students were mostly middle-class or lower-income people who often were the first in their families to attend college. When I taught night classes, who did I find? Me! People who had stopped to grab a burger on the way from work to class. Who were trying to get ahead in their careers or start a career because they had not been able to when they were young. All of this was possible because of affordable tuition.

And the professor’s argument about the more “elite” schools in the system educating mainly the well-off? California State University, Fullerton, added pre-med, pre-dental and pre-pharmacy majors. Students were able to prepare to transfer to schools like UC Irvine to complete their medical training with much less debt than if they had started at the “elite” school.

Many of my students went on to receive master’s and doctoral degrees from the elite schools, not debt-free, but with debt that was manageable.

Please don’t tell me California’s free colleges didn’t work. And now for the shocker: Today, in 2016, a student can attend any community college in that state for the low tuition of $49 per unit. That means that a student at Santa Ana College, where I earned my associate’s degree, can attend almost a full semester for the same price that a student would pay to take one of my three-unit classes at Anoka-Ramsey Community College or Century College.

When I moved to Minnesota 11 years ago, I was under the impression that it was the “education state.” I have learned that Minnesota’s attitude about postsecondary education is backward. Wake up, Minnesota! Free or reasonable college tuition is good for the student, the companies in the state, the state and the nation.

 

Barbara Deeds Baldwin, of Anoka, is retired after more than 20 years as an adjunct professor.

Our editors found this article on this site using Google and regenerated it for our readers.

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