You know that college is unaffordable. Its cost lubricates the slide carrying young people out of North Dakota and Greater Minnesota in pursuit of employment that will (hopefully) pay down their debt. That debt looms over them—and, increasingly, over parents—for decades, foreclosing opportunities and limiting freedoms like the choice to remain in rural places, to take risks like starting a small business, or to do socially useful work like teaching. Now, however, there’s a solution, and it needs our U.S. senators’ support to become a reality.
The College for All Act would make community college tuition-free for everyone, and four-year public universities tuition-free for families making less than $125,000 a year. That’s more than 84% of North Dakota and roughly 82% of Minnesota households (statisticalatlas.com). Higher education would be affordable for all working families, like it once was.
We can afford College for All by taxing select Wall Street trades at less than a half a percent. Wall Street gamblers pursuing wealth they didn’t need got a bailout from taxpayers. Now they can provide the rest of us with the education that we do need. There’s a gulf in lifetime earnings between college graduates and high school diploma-holders. A college education is worth it, and College for All puts it within the reach of everyday Americans.
College for All would also improve the quality of college education. Teachers at all levels are devoted to their students but frequently don’t receive much material support. As so many caregivers found out during the pandemic, teaching is work. While public funding has vanished over the last several decades, the proportion of classes taught by secure, fulltime professors has also plummeted. Around 75% of classes are taught, instead, by graduate students and adjunct faculty paid by the class; the Uber drivers of higher ed, roaming from campus to campus, patching together gigs. About one fourth of adjuncts nationwide are on public assistance.
I’m an adjunct—a dedicated teacher and successful scholar—who graduated from Minnesota State Mankato on a hockey scholarship and family help. I’ve returned to small-town Minnesota on purpose to fight for others to have the chances I got. It shouldn’t take such privilege for anyone to make a similar choice, free from student debt.
Parents and students should both demand a better, fairer system: our working conditions at colleges are the learning conditions for you, your children, grandchildren, and future community members. If you want sustained attention from your professors or a letter of recommendation to jumpstart your career, the College for All Act will help. Unlike today, where your favorite teacher disappears, a graduate student who moved on or an adjunct lacking office space and time to meet with you, College for All demands that universities prioritize hiring to ensure that 75% of classes are taught by fulltime professors.
We can fix this. Urge Sens. Hoeven and Cramer in North Dakota, and Sens. Klobuchar and Smith in Minnesota, to support the College for All Act.
Joe Schiller lives in Detroit Lakes, Minn.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.