Finding solutions for affordable education

Lauren Glasby/Staff

Politicians like to talk about income inequality. But the time has come to stop talking and start doing.

The solution is right in front of us. If you are a student at UC Berkeley, you are part of the solution right now. The data is clear: We need to send more economically disadvantaged and middle-class students to college so they can learn the skills and earn the degrees necessary to keep up with our rapidly changing economy. And we need to make sure that when they graduate, they are not burdened by crushing debts.

Study after study has shown that a four-year degree – and even a two-year degree in core skills – makes the difference between a solid middle-class lifestyle or a lifetime of economic struggles.

Last year, the Oregon legislature passed a “Pay It Forward, Pay It Back” proposal – and I believe we could and should implement a similar program in California. Pay It Forward is a tuition program that lets students attend a public college or university for free, and after graduating, the students are required to pay 3 percent of their annual salaries into a special fund for 24 years.

It allows more students to get a high-quality education and gives them the building blocks to a successful future with a well paying job or career that will help them pay for tuition.

Like earlier generations, I was lucky to have had access to affordable higher learning. After my mother, an immigrant from Latin America, died from cancer, my cousin took me in and raised me as her own. She always taught me the importance of a great education. And because she and her husband were campus police officers, I had an opportunity to attend Temple University in Philadelphia with free tuition.

But back then, it was possible to work your way through school. I held a number of minimum-wage jobs, my first year flipping hamburgers on the night shift at McDonald’s for $3.35 an hour. Often times, I’d get off to work at 7 a.m. and head straight to my 9 a.m. chemistry class. It wasn’t pretty – but it was possible.

The same thing can’t be said today. You couldn’t “work your way through” UC Berkeley or a California State University with a minimum-wage job today. The only option now is a mountain of debt, which deters too many otherwise-qualified students and leaves those who do take on such debts with decades of disadvantage.

That’s why a key part of my campaign for state Assembly has been proposing legislation that makes higher education more affordable for and accessible to all. The “Pay It Forward” plan will mean more students with degrees and fewer students and families with crushing debts.

I’m proud that Attorney General Kamala Harris; Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom; civil rights activist Dolores Huerta; California’s teachers, nurses and firefighters, and the Cal Dems all support my campaign, and I hope you will join us.

Learn about the work my campaign is doing to make college affordable, improve our schools, protect our environment and engage the community around real solutions at www.TonyThurmond.com. As a member of the Assembly, my door will always be open, and I look forward to engaging UC Berkeley students in our political process in the years to come.

Please, make your voice heard and remember to vote on Election Day, Nov. 4. We need more voices to be heard, especially those of college students and emerging young leaders, who are the key to our state’s future. If you have any questions about what is at stake in this election both locally and across the state, please email me directly at [email protected] I look forward to hearing from you and working with you in the years ahead.

Tony Thurmond is a former Richmond City Council member and school board member. As a social worker, he’s worked with struggling families and at-risk youth in the East Bay community for more than 20 years. He is currently a director of youth programs at Lincoln Child Center and a candidate for state Assembly District 15.

Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter: @dailycalopinion.