No one should be priced out of higher education. Yet with a potential tuition increase looming for Michigan’s community colleges, a college degree may become even harder to attain. A new budget being discussed by the House Appropriations Committee this week proposes to cut funding for community colleges by 3 percent. While the gravity of the state’s budget woes is well known, the state’s already-decimated higher education funding cannot afford more cuts — especially to community colleges, which are a valuable part of the higher education system. State legislators should recognize the importance of community colleges and reject the proposed funding cuts.

On Monday, NPR reported that the Michigan House Appropriations Committee is currently debating a budget proposal to cut funding for community colleges by 3 percent. According to Mike Hansen, current president of the Michigan Community College Association, community colleges may have to raise tuition rates between 5 and 10 percent for the fall semester to meet demand. This potential tuition hike comes as Michigan’s community colleges are reporting enrollment numbers at record highs.

Institutions of higher education — community, public or private — are critical to the future of the state. The path to a better economy lay in the education of the workforce of tomorrow. State legislators should realize that with the economy still in crisis, a raise in community college tuition could deter low-income students from continuing their education. For many students in the state, the prohibitive cost of a private or public four-year university leads them to choose community colleges to fulfill preliminary requirements before transferring to a larger institution. For these students, attending a community college must remain a viable option.

Community colleges play an integral role in the higher education system. In addition to providing students with a cheaper alternative to traditional four-year colleges, many community colleges also serve as vocational schools. They provide students with an education tailored to careers that many four-year institutions don’t offer. Important career fields like mechanical service and law enforcement are often certified through community colleges. Increasing the tuition for schools that provide vocational training would be a disservice to Michigan communities.

These institutions also provide an affordable education for adults looking for a fresh start on their careers. With the auto industry in peril and one of the largest state unemployment rates in the country, Michigan’s community colleges have the potential to aid in the diversification of the state economy. Community colleges should remain a place to retrain workers who have been laid off for a new industry in an accessible, affordable way. But many of these people already struggle to pay for professional retraining. A further raise in tuition could hinder the transition to a more diverse economy for Michigan.

Raising tuition at community colleges isn’t the answer to the state’s budget woes. Education should be a means by which the state can diversify its economy for more sustainable growth. For many, that education begins at a community college, and state legislatures shouldn’t hamper financial accessibility to these institutions.

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