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Opinion: Investment in education benefits everyone

Robyn Parker
LIBERAL LOGIC
Free Press Opinion Columnist

In my 14th year of taking first-day-of-school photos, I missed one of the most momentous photo opps of a lifetime. My boy started college this week, and I’m relying on him to send me a selfie.

It doesn’t seem like that long ago that I was snapping shots of him as a three-and-a-half pound premature baby. At first, I was afraid to photograph him or think about names because he seemed too fragile to stay with me for long. He sprouted up faster and taller than a beanstalk, though, with a voice as deep as a giant’s.

He grew up like I did, with an understanding that attending college was just as mandatory as graduating from high school, taking piano lessons, and voting. Education was a family endeavor with investments and encouragement from parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles.

We arrived at the University of Colorado in Boulder last week in his rusty 1998 Honda, which he parked among Audis and BMWs. One such car was pulled over on the side of the road next to the dorms. Surrounded by police cars and with its doors wide open, I could see that it was packed with marijuana plants.

The New Hampshire license plates were suggestive of the stereotypical, affluent out-of-staters who come to Colorado just to party. All these guys had done to prepare for college was to plant some pot seeds. Since they hadn’t even bothered to glance at Colorado’s marijuana laws, their first day of school photos were police mugshots.

A week before all of this, I photographed another college freshman on her first day of school. She’s a family friend who started classes without any idea how she’s going to pay the tuition bill, which is due 30 days after school starts.

She graduated from high school with an LPN license from Western Colorado Community College and intends to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Colorado Mesa University.

With room, board, and tuition, college costs about $15,000 a year. Without a parent to co-sign for a loan, she qualified for $5,500 in financial aid. She could never afford the up-front costs for a semester of college, but by living in an apartment off campus and holding two jobs, she is almost able to survive month-to-month.

She is $1,200 short of tuition costs this semester. What’s a party budget for some students is the difference between being trapped in poverty or working one’s way up into the middle class for far too many people, including my friend.

College certainly isn’t the best option for everyone, but it should be a possibility for anyone who wants to try. We all benefit from the work of scientists, engineers, nurses, and teachers. Professions requiring a college education shouldn’t be accessible only to the affluent.

As adults bicker about abortion and guns, our kids are being ignored. Our schools are falling apart and corporate control is strangling our economy. With minimum wage jobs becoming careers rather than summer jobs for students, less than half of all parents can afford higher education for their children.

As I wish for a brighter future for the kids of today, my thoughts turn to the Civilian Conservation Corps. The CCC was all about building better communities by investing in citizens and infrastructure.

Created to stimulate the economy during the Great Depression, CCC employed 3 million people to plant 3 billion trees, construct 800 parks, and build a network of service buildings and roadways. With the skills they acquired, people could find jobs that paid living wages, and economies and communities improved.

Too many kids are graduating from high school today without the possibility of career training or sustainable employment. It’s to the advantage of each and every one of us to figure out ways to make some sort of upward mobility a possibility for even the poorest among us.

Citizens, not corporations which profit from poverty, should be planning the future for our children. Registering to vote and learning which political candidates are interested in investing in children and communities is a good place to start. We can do better.

A fourth generation Coloradan, GJ Free Press columnist Robyn Parker is the former host of the progressive community radio show, Grand Valley Live. She is a stay-at-home mom, active community volunteer and board member for local environmental and social justice organizations. Robyn may be reached at gjrobyn@gmail.com.


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