I’m James Schuelke and I work on our advocacy team here at Heads Up America. As a proud community college alumni, I know firsthand the difference these campuses make in people’s lives. That’s why today I’m heading to my alma mater, Cuesta College, where San Luis Obispo County is investing in the future by providing free community college to its students.
I grew up attending public school in southern California. My classmates came from every walk of life, representing military families, immigrant communities, and working-class households. When high school graduation rolled around, some of the brightest and most capable people I knew did not pursue higher degrees or occupational training. They were intimidated by the cost of college and overwhelmed by the need to support their parents and siblings. Education and career goals were put on hold indefinitely. Dreams slipped away. At my core, I feel strongly that my community missed an opportunity to invest in these young men and women, people who might have become brilliant doctors, business leaders, public servants, and so much more. No one should be denied an education simply because they cannot afford it. That’s why I support free community college – because the best investment we can make is in hardworking people who want to get ahead.
Following high school, I moved up the coast to attend community college with the financial support of my parents. Cuesta College provided the best learning experience I’ve received anywhere. My classes were diverse, filled with veterans and single parents, first-generation and middle-aged students. That meant richer classroom discussions, with perspectives shared from a wide range of life experiences. I loved it. Further, Cuesta’s faculty were the best educators I’ve had on any campus. They cared about my goals, sharing their time and knowledge to help me move forward. Their support was the single best gift any school has given me.
Today, my alma mater provides tuition-free education through “Cuesta Promise.” This program recognizes the potential in young people who cannot afford college but are willing to work hard. And I can tell you, no one works harder than community college students. They juggle jobs, daycare, classes and much more. Cuesta Promise runs on faith in these students – the same faith I wish had been placed in my peers years ago. It is not a handout. It is an investment in our future.
So today I’m heading to Cuesta College to discuss their impactful work and ongoing efforts to strengthen this important program. San Luis Obispo has given me so much and I am glad for their confidence in the next generation. Thank you Cuesta!
Ten years ago, another community across the country – El Dorado, Arkansas – made a similar commitment to its own students. Today, my friend and colleague, Matt Caffrey, is attending their anniversary celebration. Learn more by following our travels today on Twitter.