Recently, Kentucky came one step closer to making free community college a reality for its residents.

House Bill 626, which passed the Kentucky House of Representatives on March 17, 2016, requires Kentucky students to apply for student aid and would allow the state to pay the difference between that and their tuition for up to two years.

Students would simply have to take 12 credit hours per semester and maintain a 2.0 grade point average.


Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images.

Free community college is not without its critics.

When President Barack Obama proposed a free two-year college plan last year, some called it a handout, and others — such as the Institute for College Access and Success — got more literary and called it a "wolf in sheep's clothing."

Yet in Kentucky now and in Tennessee two years ago, there have been major strides forward.

People who support this talk about valuing education, and those against it caution about raising taxes, but there's a lot more to it than that: Providing students with the option to attend community college for free isn't just about giving students access to education. It certainly does that, but it does a lot more, too.

Here are three surprising ways making community college free benefits everyone:

1. It strengthens the economy in the long-term.

The simple fact is, when people are more educated, they earn better wages, expand economic opportunity, and strengthen the overall economy.

The correlation is pretty easy to follow. People with higher education like a college degree have more job opportunities. It's also been shown that they're more likely to become more productive citizens and workers. That means more people with better jobs, with more money in their pockets, who are more able to effectively stimulate the economy.

Many students in other countries attend college for free or close to it. Like this university in Berlin, Germany. Photo by Axel Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images.

One of the most often cited criticisms of free community college plans is that people don't want to spend their tax dollars on a perceived handout for others. In fact, anyone paying to support accessible education is actually helping to stimulate the economy in the long run.

2. Increasing education is related to lower crime rates.

Many studies, including this one from 2005, have shown that an increase in education has led to a reduction in crime, usually in pretty amazing proportions. For example, if the average time spent in school increased by one year, murder and assault would drop by almost 30%, motor vehicle theft by 20%, arson by 13%, and burglary and larceny would drop about 6%

We often forget about the large systemic injustices that contribute to crime, such as lack of wealth and opportunity. As we've seen, college education can lead to more economic opportunity, which can begin to tear down some of those barriers.

The Rhode Island Correctional Facility in Cranston. It's estimated that keeping a prisoner in Rhode Island costs over $40,000 a year. Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images.

Also, a year in prison is in some cases more expensive than a year at Princeton — and taxpayers aren't on the hook to covering a year at Princeton. So there's a massive amount of taxpayer money to be saved by educating the masses instead of imprisoning them.

3. Finally, and most importantly, making community college free lets kids and teenagers know they're worth investing in.

Among the most hidden benefits of free access to community college is what happens in the hearts and minds of kids who suddenly have a feasible way to continue their education.

In Kentucky, House Speaker Greg Stumbo said the program would cost about $20 million a year and could help 15,000 to 18,000 students in its first year.

That's 18,000 students who will suddenly have access to the life-changing and self-improving qualities of continuing their education. Thousands of kids who are suddenly being told that their state will actually pay money to help them succeed, and that they're worth that investment.

Free community college isn't just a handout.

Most Americans say they can't afford even public college. Many kids who manage to scrape together enough savings and loans to attend college have to remain in debt for years. Sometimes decades.

Giving people access to free community college is an investment. It would pay off in the economy and in the reduction of crime. It would save taxpayers money, and it would increase the productivity and wealth of our entire country.

Photo by Nate Shron/Getty Images.

But beyond that, it would send millions of kids a valuable message, one that would be undeniable in its benefits.

That message is that they're capable of succeeding. That they can, and should go to college, to find out what they're made of and how they can help us all build a better future.

And that we believe in them so much, we're willing to pay for it.

Leah Menzies/TikTok

Leah Menzies had no idea her deceased mother was her boyfriend's kindergarten teacher.

When you start dating the love of your life, you want to share it with the people closest to you. Sadly, 18-year-old Leah Menzies couldn't do that. Her mother died when she was 7, so she would never have the chance to meet the young woman's boyfriend, Thomas McLeodd. But by a twist of fate, it turns out Thomas had already met Leah's mom when he was just 3 years old. Leah's mom was Thomas' kindergarten teacher.

The couple, who have been dating for seven months, made this realization during a visit to McCleodd's house. When Menzies went to meet his family for the first time, his mom (in true mom fashion) insisted on showing her a picture of him making a goofy face. When they brought out the picture, McLeodd recognized the face of his teacher as that of his girlfriend's mother.

Menzies posted about the realization moment on TikTok. "Me thinking my mum (who died when I was 7) will never meet my future boyfriend," she wrote on the video. The video shows her and McLeodd together, then flashes to the kindergarten class picture.

“He opens this album and then suddenly, he’s like, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God — over and over again,” Menzies told TODAY. “I couldn’t figure out why he was being so dramatic.”

Obviously, Menzies is taking great comfort in knowing that even though her mother is no longer here, they can still maintain a connection. I know how important it was for me to have my mom accept my partner, and there would definitely be something missing if she wasn't here to share in my joy. It's also really incredible to know that Menzies' mother had a hand in making McLeodd the person he is today, even if it was only a small part.

@speccylee

Found out through this photo in his photo album. A moment straight out of a movie 🥲

♬ iris - 🫶

“It’s incredible that that she knew him," Menzies said. "What gets me is that she was standing with my future boyfriend and she had no idea.”

Since he was only 3, McLeodd has no actual memory of Menzies' mother. But his own mother remembers her as “kind and really gentle.”

The TikTok has understandably gone viral and the comments are so sweet and positive.

"No the chills I got omggg."

"This is the cutest thing I have watched."

"It’s as if she remembered some significance about him and sent him to you. Love fate 😍✨"

In the caption of the video, she said that discovering the connection between her boyfriend and her mom was "straight out of a movie." And if you're into romantic comedies, you're definitely nodding along right now.

Menzies and McLeodd made a follow-up TikTok to address everyone's positive response to their initial video and it's just as sweet. The young couple sits together and addresses some of the questions they noticed pop up. People were confused that they kept saying McLeodd was in kindergarten but only 3 years old when he was in Menzies' mother's class. The couple is Australian and Menzies explained that it's the equivalent of American preschool.

They also clarified that although they went to high school together and kind of knew of the other's existence, they didn't really get to know each other until they started dating seven months ago. So no, they truly had no idea that her mother was his teacher. Menzies revealed that she "didn't actually know that my mum taught at kindergarten."

"I just knew she was a teacher," she explained.

She made him act out his reaction to seeing the photo, saying he was "speechless," and when she looked at the photo she started crying. McLeodd recognized her mother because of the pictures Menzies keeps in her room. Cue the "awws," because this is so cute, I'm kvelling.

A simple solution for all ages, really.

School should feel like a safe space. But after the tragic news of yet another mass shooting, many children are scared to death. As a parent or a teacher, it can be an arduous task helping young minds to unpack such unthinkable monstrosities. Especially when, in all honesty, the adults are also terrified.

Katelyn Campbell, a clinical psychologist in South Carolina, worked with elementary school children in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting. She recently shared a simple idea that helped then, in hopes that it might help now.

The psychologist tweeted, “We had our kids draw pictures of scenery that made them feel calm—we then hung them up around the school—to make the ‘other kids who were scared’ have something calm to look at.”



“Kids, like adults, want to feel helpful when they feel helpless,” she continued, saying that drawing gave them something useful to do.

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Photo by Heather Mount on Unsplash

Actions speak far louder than words.

It never fails. After a tragic mass shooting, social media is filled with posts offering thoughts and prayers. Politicians give long-winded speeches on the chamber floor or at press conferences asking Americans to do the thing they’ve been repeatedly trained to do after tragedy: offer heartfelt thoughts and prayers. When no real solution or plan of action is put forth to stop these senseless incidents from occurring so frequently in a country that considers itself a world leader, one has to wonder when we will be honest with ourselves about that very intangible automatic phrase.

Comedian Anthony Jeselnik brilliantly summed up what "thoughts and prayers" truly mean. In a 1.5-minute clip, Jeselnik talks about victims' priorities being that of survival and not wondering if they’re trending at that moment. The crowd laughs as he mimics the actions of well-meaning social media users offering thoughts and prayers after another mass shooting. He goes on to explain how the act of performatively offering thoughts and prayers to victims and their families really pulls the focus onto the author of the social media post and away from the event. In the short clip he expertly expresses how being performative on social media doesn’t typically equate to action that will help victims or enact long-term change.

Of course, this isn’t to say that thoughts and prayers aren’t welcomed or shouldn’t be shared. According to Rabbi Jack Moline "prayer without action is just noise." In a world where mass shootings are so common that a video clip from 2015 is still relevant, it's clear that more than thoughts and prayers are needed. It's important to examine what you’re doing outside of offering thoughts and prayers on social media. In another several years, hopefully this video clip won’t be as relevant, but at this rate it’s hard to see it any differently.