As Detroit continues its comeback struggle, perpetually seeking to redefine and recreate itself as a more updated community, one of the largest potential barriers to the realization of that goal is a sufficiently educated workforce. A city built on the once-upon-a-time promise of livable wages for anyone willing to work in the oftentimes grueling conditions of the many manufacturing plants and factories, Detroit is still digging itself out from under that once-upon-a-time legacy when the lack of a good education did not stand in the way of a good job that paid enough for a decent quality of life.
Those times are long, long gone. But because Detroit has never successfully adapted to the post- factory boomtown days when anyone could just walk into the plant and get a job, Detroit has spent more than several decades fading away. Detroit’s decline is an extremely complex issue which involves more than just the decline of the auto industry, but that decline plays a huge part. And much of the reason it plays such a huge part is that earlier generations of Detroiters were basically taught that a good education was a nice thing to have, but it wasn’t essential.
Today, the possibility of getting a good-paying job without at least a college education is practically impossible. And in Detroit, where the public school system has been decimated due to years of incompetent emergency management, poor financial and administrative management, misdirected experimentation, and numerous other troubling issues, the victims have been the children who have been deprived of the basic tools they need to handle the requirements of so-called higher education.
On Thursday evening, when President Obama proposed his plan offering the first two years of community college free for any student willing to work for it, I thought this just might be the kind of lifeline Detroit needs. Because although a number of Detroit high school students might not have the resources to qualify for a traditional four-year college or university, the opportunity to continue their education through a community college without having to worry about tuition for the first two years is truly a Godsend. Because as college tuition has spiraled further and further out of reach for more and more young people, community colleges have found themselves picking up the slack over the years. And now, with Obama’s new proposal, they could become the sort of lifeline that provides millions of young Americans access to a better life. And in Detroit, any hopes of a true renaissance are on hold until the education piece gets resolved.
As my colleague Sarah Jones points out in her earlier post on the issue, it’s a virtual certainty that Congressional Republicans will do their best to torpedo Obama’s idea because, well, it’s Obama’s idea. Plus it helps regular everyday people.
But if there’s any way the President’s plan can become a reality, it just might be the perfect lifeline that working class cities like Detroit have been needing for a very long time.
Keith Owens (AKA Black Liberal Boomer) is a Detroit-based writer who has worked for The Detroit Free Press, Detroit’s alternative newsweekly the Metro Times, the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, and other newspapers. He was also a nationally syndicated columnist with Universal Press Syndicate for three years beginning in 1993.