As today’s young adults struggle to balance the rising costs of a postsecondary education with countless other financial obligations, many public universities burdened with budget cuts and debt are drastically slashing financial aid packages, driving up the cost of tuition and making a previously accessible college degree virtually unaffordable to many.

The stakes of these new economic challenges are high; hampering the best means for raising one’s economic opportunities in America for the next generation of young adults. So, what’s the solution? Demos, a non-partisan public policy research and advocacy organization founded in 2000, has been focusing on this particular aspect of the economic crisis and has some really good ideas.

The postwar GI Bill and the Higher Education Act of 1965 democratized college entry and completion, and in the process, helped advance the democratizaton of the country. These public investments in higher education were instrumental in creating a comfortable middle class. Today however, financial support for college students has plummeted to record-lows, and students from low-middle income families are now paying as much as 33 percent of family income to matriculate at a typical public four-year college. Not surprisingly, large proportions of students are consequently working long hours, attending school part-time and taking out large amounts of debt, compromising their ability to graduate at all.

The latest stats are telling: Currently, fewer than 60 percent of students who enter a four year university obtain a bachelor’s degree within six years. Among students who start at a community college, only 35 percent earn a credential within six years.

Both the sad and hopeful thing is that these trends can be easily re-directed with smart public policies, many of which Demos has helpfully mapped out. One simple idea could make a dramatic difference: Making community college tuition free to all first time college seekers. This would quickly boost the long-term earnings and economic success of lower-income students and begin to re-assert the primacy and possibility of the American Dream.

Demos unveiled the suggestion as part of "Ideas for Change in America," a national crowd-sourcing competition staged by to select the best ideas from across the country and turn them into reality. Vote for Demos’ idea and check out the range of other innovative policy prescriptions for addressing the most urgent challenges owe face.



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