This November, young voters showed up to elect Democrats in record numbers. As the 118th Congress convenes, many lawmakers are likely aware that they owe their elections to Gen Z and millennial constituents back home.
Take Arizona’s newly reelected Sen. Mark Kelly, who won a tight race thanks to 76% of the 18- to 29-year-old voters who supported him. Or Pennsylvania’s new senator, John Fetterman, who captured 70% of the youth vote.
In House races, John Della Volpe from the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics found that Americans under the age of 30 showed up in such high numbers and favored Democrats so strongly, we actually canceled out the votes of those over the age of 65.
You’re welcome, America.
Gen Z voted and it was a W for democracy:We can no longer be a political afterthought
Now, many of us in Gen Z are wondering, will Congress come through for us in return? Making community college free would be a good place to start.
Will Democrats really deliver?
President Joe Biden touted this promise on the campaign trail and included the policy in his Build Back Better plan. But private universities complained that the option of free higher education would threaten their ability to charge sky high tuition rates, and Democratic Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia put the kibosh on the plan.
The Biden administration then pivoted, offering student loan relief via administrative order. Unsurprisingly, the president’s approval rating among young voters started to climb, as my generation is overwhelmed with debt and eager to see elected officials tackle this economic crisis.
Fast-forward to 2023: Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan faces an uncertain future before the Supreme Court, and thanks to an expanded majority in the Senate, Manchin and Sinema no longer wield the power they once held. The time is ripe to resurrect free college.
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We know the path forward for free community college
At the very moment that our economy requires more college graduates than ever before, young people simply can’t afford to pursue a degree. When I was elected to the Connecticut Senate, I saw my state’s community college enrollment dwindling. There were even whispers that we would need to close a campus in order to keep our budget in the black.
We decided to make college free, hoping to turn enrollment numbers around. Our coalition was guided by the belief that a lack of personal resources shouldn’t prevent qualified students from pursuing an education.
When our bill passed in 2019, I watched as members of my generation reacted on social media. “Guess nursing school is going to happen sooner than I thought,” one said. “I’ll definitely go for early childhood development if this is true,” another posted.
Since the program was created, thousands of students have decided to pursue a degree that they otherwise would not have been able to afford.
Connecticut isn’t alone. More than half of states have enacted some form of free college, including many under Republican leadership. Tennessee was the first state to eliminate community college tuition, driven by a desire to bolster their workforce pipeline.
A July poll by the Campaign for Free College Tuition found that 62% of Republicans and 76% of independents support free college for academically qualified students.
In the early days of our republic, the need for a literate citizenry led to the establishment of free primary education. At the turn of the 20th century, growing demand for skills in industry led to the creation of free secondary education.
Now, it’s time for our country to adopt a K-14, not K-12, mindset.
Young people showed up in record numbers this year because we hoped that Democratic lawmakers might actually have our backs and change our lives for the better. Let’s hope Congress proves us right.