Cynics may accuse Kevin Kamenetz of political opportunism and proposing the politically-correct thing on community colleges this week.
But, as it happens, it’s also the right thing.
As Baltimore County executive, Kamenetz introduced a local version of the College Promise Movement. As a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, he knows a good attention-grabber when he sees it.
He also knows that in the year 2018, such a move is an idea whose time has arrived.
In fact, it’s long overdue.
College Promise is a proposal to cover tuition costs at the Community College of Baltimore County. That covers three campuses – Catonsville, Dundalk and Essex — with a combined 62,000 students who pay $1,876 in tuition each semester, though Kamenetz’s proposal would apply only to about 1,100 students at the outset.
The effort would be part of a nationwide gesture to make community colleges tuition-free. It recognizes, at last, the modern truth that a high school diploma doesn’t get you very far in the 21st-century workplace, and that many students hungry for higher education simply don’t have the money for any studies beyond high school.
The Baltimore County program would make up the difference between the tuition bill and what students get from grants and financial aid.
There are about 200 programs in 40 states now waiving tuition and fees for some community college students, according to the College Promise Campaign, a group advocating for free college across the country.
Advocates say the programs boost economic and workforce training and make college accessible to students who can qualify with a grade point average of 2.5 or better, and have a family income of $69,000 or less.
Kamenetz’s gesture follows Mayor Catherine E. Pugh, who announced a similar plan last year to make tuition free at Baltimore City Community College. Her proposal imposes no grade-point or income restrictions.
Both proposals are recognition of the changing ties of education to employment. Once upon a time, the Baltimore metropolitan area was rich with industrial jobs, which offered solid middle-class salaries and long-term job security.
Those jobs are mostly gone with the wind. And in the modern, high-tech world, the need for college is stronger than ever.
College Promise is belated recognition, and it opens a door for a lot of kids who previously saw a pretty unpromising future staring them in the face.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books. His most recent, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” has just been re-issued in paperback by the Johns Hopkins University Press.