Community College For Some, Miniature American Flags For Others!

Tom Hanks has written a wry, lovely tribute to Chabot, the community college he attended for two years because “it accepted everyone and was free.

For thousands of commuting students, Chabot was our Columbia, Annapolis, even our Sorbonne, offering courses in physics, stenography, auto mechanics, certified public accounting, foreign languages, journalism — name the art or science, the subject or trade, and it was probably in the catalog. The college had a nursing program that churned out graduates, sports teams that funneled athletes to big-time programs, and parking for a few thousand cars — all free but for the effort and the cost of used textbooks.

Classmates included veterans back from Vietnam, women of every marital and maternal status returning to school, middle-aged men wanting to improve their employment prospects and paychecks. We could get our general education requirements out of the way at Chabot — credits we could transfer to a university — which made those two years an invaluable head start. I was able to go on to the State University in Sacramento (at $95 a semester, just barely affordable) and study no other subject but my major, theater arts. (After a year there I moved on, enrolling in a little thing called the School of Hard Knocks, a.k.a. Life.)

It’s a sweet story, and it may be familiar to anyone who saw the Tom Hanks movie Larry Crowne, inspired by his experiences. It’s also particular relevant right now.

President Obama hopes to make two years of free community college accessible for up to nine million Americans. I’m guessing the new Congress will squawk at the $60 billion price tag, but I hope the idea sticks, because more veterans, from Iraq and Afghanistan this time, as well as another generation of mothers, single parents and workers who have been out of the job market, need lower obstacles between now and the next chapter of their lives. High school graduates without the finances for a higher education can postpone taking on big loans and maybe luck into the class that will redefine their life’s work. Many lives will be changed.

“Community college for all!” “Boo!” “Very well, no community college for anyone!” “Boooooo!” “Hm. Community college for some, miniature American flags for others!” “Yay!”

Ah politics.

We as a nation should be all about expanding access to an affordable community college education. It’s good for students, whether or not they go on to graduate from four-year universities. And it’s good for educators, of whom our nation has a (dissatisfied and ill-treated) surplus. Maybe the faculty could even be unionized and well-treated! The movies, after all, teach us to dream big.

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