3 not-so-obvious ways you benefit when community college is free.

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.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
True

In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Image is a representation of the grandfather, not the anonymous subject of the story.

Eight years a go, a grandfather in Michigan wrote a powerful letter to his daughter after she kicked out her son out of the house for being gay. It's so perfectly written that it crops up on social media every so often.

The letter is beautiful because it's written by a man who may not be with the times, but his heart is in the right place.

It first appeared on the Facebook page FCKH8 and a representative told Gawker that the letter was given to them by Chad, the 16-year-old boy referenced in the letter.

Keep Reading Show less
True

When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."