The small southwest Kansas community of Neodesha recently made headlines when businessman Ben Cutler pledged to bankroll college tuition for all students who meet certain requirements. His offer is incredibly generous and will undoubtedly touch the lives of hundreds of students.
Making such support available for all young people in Kansas is a worthy, but likely out-of-reach goal for the state. There are smaller steps that may help, however. Higher education should be accessible to all students, but making college accessible doesn’t have to mean making it free.
For some populations, a small investment, far less than the full cost of tuition, can open doors to college
A new study from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research analyzed what it takes to help get single mothers through college and the economic impacts of their college degrees. The results are encouraging: Providing child care helps single moms to graduate, and for every dollar invested in providing that care, states can get up to $4.54 in economic returns. The returns come in the form of taxes paid on increased wages and decreased need for public assistance programs.
Child care that’s easy to access, like on-campus day cares, can also help single parents access child care and reduce transportation costs
First-generation college students also face barriers to completing degrees. Lack of preparation for college, limited family support and finances all place hurdles in the path of students trying to be the first in their families to get a degree.
A recent study from researchers at Washington State University found that first-generation students are much more likely than others to feel that they don't belong in college, particularly in competitive science and technology classes. Their feelings of being “imposters” in the classroom directly connect to less participation in class, spotty attendance and lower grades.
For these students, relationships with mentors and other students are critical to success. Many colleges are now institutionalizing programs that help first-generation students find their place in higher education.
Financial support is one critical part of making college accessible, but there are other pieces to the puzzle. Helping underserved students access college is good for the economic health of the students and our state.