For Mexican-Americans and others trying to get ahead, education had been the stairway to the middle class. Education meant security and basics such as health insurance. This heaven meant better jobs and a small house for old age.
But now this stairway has fallen into disrepair. One rung after another has been destroyed.
The first rung was financial assistance. Many Latino students and poor blacks and whites could afford college only through grants and subsidies. But over the last two decades, colleges have diluted financial aid while shrinking funding.
The second rung was inexpensive tuition, which is now a thing of the past. At the California state universities, tuition will rise to more than $10,000 a year, which will put education out of the reach of students from barrio schools. Putting this in perspective, I paid about $10 a year when I attended a California state university in the late 1950s, and in 1969 fees amounted to about $50 a semester.
Among 16 developed nations, the United States ranks 13th in affordability.
Repairing this stairway should be our first priority. Education is a basic right, and we who are active with youth know the consequences of having a population that is not able to educate itself.
Latinos and others need to come together to establish a nonprofit university that would keep the costs under $1,000 a year. We have the human resources to do this, with all the retired teachers and professors who would be more than willing to lend their talents to such an endeavor. We can utilize the Internet. And we can make use of public places, like parks and community centers, where we can hold classes.
It is simply unacceptable that so many Mexican-Americans and other young people can’t afford to go to college. Since our public colleges won’t address this problem, we’ll have to do it ourselves.
Rodolfo F. Acuna is a professor at Cal State Northridge. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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