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Free Community College for Whom?

By: Tanya Camacho

In January, President Obama proposed free community college for low income Americans. But there is a catch: one must have a grade point average of 2.5; and, graduate from high school. This now becomes problematic when aligning college and low-income communities. Looking at the large Urban- Suburban gap in graduation rates of 2009, school districts of Detroit, Baltimore, Indianapolis, Cleveland, and Los Angeles; graduation rates were the lowest in the United States at 45% [Link] while Detroit reported 25% [Link] compared to the national suburban graduation rate of 71%. Identifying who lives in these communities become important to see whom this free community college program will serve. The answer: Me, among, the impoverished, and people of color. I live in a low socioeconomic space amongst those who earn the bare minimum and face a huge obstacle when it comes to education. Students of color attending inner city schools face criminality quicker than they are presented on a path to college.

In order for the free community college program to be successful, we must illuminate and implement a path to college, rather than a path to prison for students of color. As of right now, inner city high school students face obstacles and not dreams. According to the Office of the Attorney General, California Department of Justice for the year 2013, drop out rates for in Alameda County African-Americans are 20.9% and among Hispanic students the drop out rate is 16.1% compared to whites who drop out at less then half of the students of color which is at the rate of 5.5% [Link] According to Teaching Tolerance, in 2005 a study found that children are likely to be arrested at school than they were a generation ago. A plethora of these arrests are for nonviolent offenses where the student is being disruptive, a noncriminal offense. In addition, the U.S. Department of Education found that more than 70 percent of students arrested in school-related incidents or referred to law enforcement are black or Hispanic [Link]. In order for our future generations of color to be able to see a path to college, and take full advantage of President Obama’ proposal we must create high schools that illuminate roads to the academy rather than roads to prison for students of color.

In order for our future generations of color to be able to envision a path to college, we must create high schools that embrace roads to college not criminality. This would start with removing metal detectors so that students of color can see themselves welcomed into an institution that embraces intelligence rather than as criminals and or troublemakers. Also, the removal of current police presence on high school grounds will aid the ability to see our future generations of color differently. Attending a high school with Police presence myself, only presented a message that I was not a trusted student who needed constant surveillance of my movements as a reminder to not do anything wrong. With this change in a positive direction, these students may be able to focus on school and learning rather than focus on the surveillance of their every movement by the police. So it is now, that we must recreate how inner city schools lead our students of color to a road to college versus a path to prison.

In addition to the removal of mechanisms of criminality, high schools within the inner city communities should offer classes that will be geared to fulfill college level entrance requirements versus alternative classes that will get a student to barely graduate high school. For example, I moved to a new high school where the population was highly occupied with Hispanics. With the last name Camacho, profiled as a brown student with a low level of intelligence, I was given the lowest level math class available. Not happy with the level of this math course, I had to challenge my placement of the math course, and waive myself into a higher-level math course acknowledging that I am taking my own risk and I was not recommended at this level of math. With the proper preparation for college, these students will learn to embrace the idea of college and be confident in doing so. With pre-exposure to what college expectations are, the preparations prior to the college experience will help to remove the fear of the unknown.

Some may argue that college is not for everyone, arguing that advancement in education is not for people of color. But if students of color are not properly prepared for advancement, than how can one become “prepared” for a college education. With the proper college preparation in high school, the youth of color will then be able to take advantage of the free community college program. Amid the removal of props that symbolize criminality, replaced by proper guidance and preparation students will meet the requirements for this program, thus granting students of color in inner city high schools a chance at free community college.