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A key to college success? Starting education early, then making college affordable

Posted Jan. 06, 2014, at 1:32 p.m.
Victoria Kornfield
Victoria Kornfield

The first five years of a person’s life are the most important when it comes to developing the ability to learn and build skills throughout life.

As a teacher for 37 years and a member of the legislative Education and Cultural Affairs Committee, I’ve seen how prekindergarten education creates a launchpad for success later on in life.

By improving our students’ ability to acquire skills and learn, we would strengthen our workforce, create an extra layer of financial stability for families and secure a more prosperous economic future for the state of Maine.

Studies have shown the investment in early education more than pays for itself.

According to the Maine Early Learning Investment Group, a public investment of $25,000 in early education for a pre-K child would be paid back almost four times over by the time that child reached adulthood.

An analysis by University of Maine Economics Professor Philip Trostel revealed that government spending could drop by $25,700 per child during K-12, thanks to reduced costs in child protective services, special education and juvenile corrections. The study concludes that the total lifetime savings to Maine would be over $125,000 per child.

Unfortunately, prekindergarten education is not provided in roughly 40 percent of Maine’s elementary schools. In the second session, legislation proposed by Sen. Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic, would aim to create a pathway for all of the state’s elementary schools to offer quality pre-K.

Nonetheless, we consistently see education in the crosshairs when it comes to budgetary cuts. I can’t stress enough how serious a threat this is to Maine’s economic future.

Reducing or eliminating funding for early childhood education would show a grave lack of foresight.

Proposed slashes to pre-K funding do not end up saving the state money in the long run. Instead they cut the legs out from underneath Maine’s potential for economic growth by weakening our future workforce.

We must make sure that Maine’s future generations have the skills and learning ability to carry our economy forward. Improving college affordability is essential to achieving that goal.

While early childhood education helps equip students with the skills needed to lead more successful lives, we must also make sure they have the ability to take advantage of opportunities to use those skills. One such opportunity is higher education.

Having a college degree significantly increases the likelihood of achieving financial stability in life.

On average, those with a college degree earn about $1 million more in their lifetime than those with only a high school diploma. That’s money they can then use to drive the economy or put aside to invest in their children’s education.

Still, college affordability remains a growing problem. At a time when the job market is rapidly becoming more modern, the importance of receiving higher education is more important than ever. Yet, many are left out due to the high cost of tuition.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the national average for the cost of tuition increased by nearly 16 percent between 2009 and 2011, and it has only risen since. In Maine, the average debt for 2012 college graduates is roughly $30,000.

Thankfully this issue has not gone unnoticed. We’ve seen many potential solutions, both good and bad, presented on the national and local levels.

In addition to a bill to expand opportunities for early childhood education in Maine, the Legislature will consider other bills that focus on college affordability in January. My focus will be on ensuring they are effective and successful.

By improving pre-K education and ensuring affordable access to higher education for all Maine students, not only would we improve the lives of our current generation of students, but we would help solidify access to higher education for those that follow.

Democratic Rep. Victoria Kornfield is serving her first term in the Maine House representing part of Bangor. She serves on the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee.

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