Completing a college education is essential to competing in today's knowledge economy. America's community colleges are doing their part to provide access to almost 50 percent of all undergraduates in the United States — about 13 million students — who want a shot at a middle-class life or better. Many of these students come from low-income households, living beneath the federal poverty level.
Income disparity has been growing for decades in this country, but the latest figures show it has reached levels not seen since the Great Depression. At a time when the cost of a college education is out of reach for many students, the open door of community colleges is a vital avenue of opportunity for low-income students.
I spend my days as president of a community college that remains committed to open access. Nearly 50 percent of the students at Miami Dade College, a state-supported institution in Miami, live in poverty, and 67 percent are low income. In addition to academic challenges, low-income students are often confronted by everyday challenges such as child care, transportation, health crises and a lack of family precedent in higher education. These are the students who must rise out of poverty if communities across the country are to prosper.