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News Maryland Harford County Bel Air

Higher education, high cost, even for community college [Editorial]

The total per credit cost for in-county students at Harford Community College was increased last week to $124.80, which translates to $374.40 for a single three-credit class.

It's hardly a king's ransom. College officials are also quick to point out that it is a bargain relative to the cost of attending even a Maryland college system facility as an in-state student.

Still, as has been noted before, the latest round of increases (to fees rather than tuition, a distinction that's meaningful only to hair-splitters) follows several other increases in recent years.

There's much good to be said about the valuable community service offered by community colleges in general, and Harford Community College in particular, but at some point all of our colleges and universities need to stop looking at each other to determine relative bargains, and start giving serious consideration to what most Americans can reasonably afford.

This idea isn't lost on everyone in positions of responsibility at colleges in some environs. CNN reported recently that state university systems in Oregon, Tennessee and Mississippi have at least considered setting in-state tuition at state colleges at $0.

No doubt there will be snide comments about the relative level of intellectual activity contributed by people from the cited states, but it's worth keeping in mind that two of the greatest contributors to American letters were from Mississippi: William Faulkner and Eudora Welty.

If a certain level of education is required for someone to successfully function in society, it is incumbent on the government of that society to provide that level of education. Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were among those who foresaw the reality that a functional democracy depended on an educated electorate, hence their respective championing of public education and public libraries.

Over the years, the technological demands of the workplace have necessitated increases in the level of learning associated with a basic education. In the time of Huck Finn, simply knowing how to read and a little arithmetic were enough. By the close of World War II, a high school diploma was the standard.

A college degree or certificate these days is as necessary to finding meaningful employment as a high school degree was a generation or two ago. If colleges continue to expect students to take on a mortgage payment worth of debt to secure a degree, it is entirely possible that college won't be an option for the American middle class in a generation. Given the necessity of a college education to getting a good job, the result could turn this country from a nation dominated by a strong, thriving majority middle class to a third world economic model.

The philosophical implications of such a change are staggering, but the practical result for colleges and universities is a dwindling pool of potential students.

For the sake of students, the nation and colleges themselves, a change in attitude at the highest levels of administration in higher education about tuition, especially at Harford Community College, is something that's long overdue.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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