A year after the onset of COVID-19, I had the privilege of speaking with students at Lewiston Middle School, which has a large number of first- and second-generation immigrant students, including many from Somalia. During the discussion, the students expressed their hopeful excitement that they would be the first in their families to attend college, with aspirations of becoming politicians, doctors and other professionals.
Many of these students come from families with limited financial means, which hinders their college prospects. Fortunately, Maine has joined several other states in making community college free for recent high school graduates, making higher education more accessible to many who would otherwise struggle to afford it. I take pride in knowing that our state is taking steps to provide its residents, especially those from underrepresented communities, with the opportunity to attend college.
The pandemic amplified the uncertainty faced by minority communities, leading to lower college enrollment and higher school dropout rates. The financial burden of tuition fees only adds to the stress for students, especially those with no other means of support. The free community college tuition program already has led to a rise in enrollment, with many immigrant students taking advantage of it with a vision of a future for themselves in the state. That’s why the state should consider making the community college plan a permanent fixture.
In addition to that initiative, a proposal from Sen. Mike Tipping, D-Penobscot, to cut the cost of tuition at state universities in half would be a tremendous boon for immigrant communities and a significant step toward addressing the financial barriers for all to higher education.
Many young Mainers, including immigrants, have had to leave the state in search of better opportunities. If the Tipping plan moves forward, more young people will stay in Maine and new generations of immigrants will have something to look forward to.
As someone who attended college in Maine a few years ago, I know firsthand the worries and challenges of paying for school without adequate resources or parental support. Many young Maine immigrants feel a sense of responsibility to contribute to their families, both locally and abroad. When I enrolled in Southern Maine Community College in 2015, less than a year after arriving in the U.S., I had to find a job while attending college to support my family back in Mogadishu. After transferring to a four-year university, the struggle to pay for college and support my family persisted.
With community college now more accessible, young Mainers can start their academic journey with an associate degree, which could lead to better job prospects and better earnings. This is the American dream and we must continue to work towards making it a reality for more individuals.
By providing financial support for higher education, we can keep more talented and motivated residents in Maine, ensuring a bright future for the state. Let us work towards creating more opportunities for those who wish to pursue higher education, regardless of their financial background, and create a brighter future for all of us.