Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Accessing Higher Education*

A recent N.Y. Times article recounts a growing trend among foundational philanthropists to direct financial support junior colleges. Junior colleges continue to offer the most realistic option for students with lackluster high school grades, or simply for those of modest means. At the forefront of providing access to community college education is Califorina, which announced that, as of January 1, 2007, it will actually reduce its per-unit tuition from $26 to $20 ($600 per year for a full-time student). Additionally, the first two years of a junior college education is fully transferable to any of the UC schools -- including UCLA and Berkeley (once the student opts-in to an approved transfer program). Ninety percent of students transfering into a UC school come from the state's community college system. Not all states provide such broad-based access to their community colleges - for example, annual tuition at a 2-year college averages about $1,600 in Texas; $2,500 in New Jersey; and nearly $3,000 in New York.

While the foundational support that a limited number of junior colleges are receiving is a step in the right direction to ensuring broader access to higher education (and a corresponding reduction in post-graduation student loans), the newly-elected Democratic Congress could provide additional support for junior colleges without making a direct outlay of federal dollars. This could come from increasing the amount available under the HOPE Scholarship Credit - which currently permits a non-refundable tax credit of up to $1,500 for qualified tuition for the first two years of a students post-secondary education. Increasing this amount would lessen the burden on students planning to attend a junior college, and permit both Democrats and Republicans to work together on tax-relief that would benefit a portion of the population that could most benefit from the assistance.

* Cross-posted at Urban Law Journal.

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