State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed

For many young people looking to improve their lives, college may seem just out of reach. It’s not that they don’t want to go to college, but many can’t afford the high costs associated with higher education.

Despite the rising costs of higher education, many employers are searching for employees with advanced skills. In St. Louis Community College’s latest State of the St. Louis Workforce report, just over one-third of employers said they were experiencing a shortage of skilled applicants. For nearly half of all employers, this shortage was highest for middle-skill jobs – those requiring more than a high school diploma, but less than a four-year degree. 

This proves that there are jobs available, but for many, these skills can only be acquired through higher education. Unfortunately, not all students graduate high school ready to enter the workforce. Most lack the training required for industry certifications that could land them a good paying job in a range of technical fields. Without any serious job prospects, that can force someone to turn to a life of crime in order to survive.

College in the United States is expensive, and too often earning a degree leaves students with a mountain of debt that takes decades to pay off. In 2018, the average student loan debt in Missouri was more than $29,000 according to LendEDU. This is up from $26,834 in 2017.

Regrettably, this forces many young people to make a difficult decision — go into debt or miss out on a great job opportunity?

Now, more than ever, we need innovative solutions that help make college more affordable. Luckily, in our community, we have people working to make higher education a reality for all students. 

St. Louis Community College recently announced a new dual-credit scholarship program, aimed at making higher education more accessible and more affordable. The Jump Start to College scholarship program will cover the full dual-credit tuition costs for high school students who qualify for free or reduced lunch within its existing dual-credit program.

The Jump Start to College scholarship program will go into effect for the spring 2020 semester, and it has the potential to impact students in more than 24 school districts, public charter high schools and independent parochial schools already participating in STLCC’s dual-credit program.

By expanding access to dual-credit programs, I firmly believe we can make it easier for all students to attain an advanced degree. Before they graduate high school, many students could already have several college credits under their belts, putting them well on their way to earning an associate or even a bachelor’s degree. Even better, dual-credit classes are more affordable than traditional college courses, saving students money. If a student decides to further their education at a four-year university, these dual-credit courses can be transferred to their new school, helping ensure they receive a quality education at a fraction of the price.

While Missouri’s community colleges educate 40 percent of our state’s college students, they only receive 15 percent of the state appropriations for higher education. This disparity in funding places a roadblock between students and success. I believe these colleges deserve more funding, and I will fight to make sure the needs of our state’s community colleges are addressed during the 2020 legislative session.

I applaud STLCC for creating the Jump Start to College scholarship program. Through innovative and cost-saving mechanisms, community colleges like STLCC are providing an opportunity for all students to acquire the education and skills needed to succeed in our rapidly-changing economy.

State Senator Jamilah Nasheed (D-St. Louis) represents Missouri’s 5th District in the Missouri Senate.

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