Although the current WCC administration views “free college” with suspicion, it could jump start the economy following a recession. Realistically, economists can only diagnose recessions after they’ve begun, since there are no “leading” economic indicators that can reliably predict an economic downturn. The wild gyrations of the stock market, the Federal Reserve Board’s interest rate cuts and the growing number of “stay home” orders seem to confirm that the economy is contracting hard and fast.
In the typical recession, community colleges play a vital role in rebuilding the economy. The unemployed, recent high school graduates, and displaced workers often find themselves in a community college classroom.
This recession – if it manifests as anticipated – could be very different. The COVID-19 pandemic could devastate entire economic sectors, like travel, hospitality, manufacturing, oil, logistics and transportation. No one knows how long the pandemic will last or how deep it will cut. Worse, policymakers cannot control factors like the safe return to work or consumer confidence.
The pandemic could also shutter community colleges – the institutions that help people escape the economic impact of recession. Without knowing more about COVID-19, it’s possible that our current reality could repeat multiple times. Community outbreaks could disrupt multiple semesters. Potential vaccines may prove ineffective. The virus could mutate regularly, making vaccination difficult.
The cost of a community college education is a major draw for people who have limited resources to escape poverty. Following a prolonged recession, prospective students and their families may simply not have the resources to enroll. A free college program could allow displaced workers and high school graduates to pursue an impactful occupational or vocational degree.
Despite the administration’s apparent political distaste for “free college,” it may turn out to be the spark the community needs.
Photo Credit: Animated Heaven , via Flickr