HOW can the poorest of the poor benefit from college?
In a recent interview with Winnie Monsod on GMA News TV, Commission on Higher Education (CHEd) Chairperson Patricia Licuanan observed that the poorest of the poor will not benefit from a tuition-free education at state universities and colleges (SUCs) because “only eight percent of the poor are enrolled in college”.
Until the CHEd finds a way for the poorest students to cross over to college, the P8.3 billion budgeted to cover free tuition in 114 SUCs nationwide in 2017 will benefit instead the “non-poor,” said the CHEd chairperson.
Students and parents of families stratified as “non-poor” will take exception to the views of Licuanan.
To be “non-poor” is not necessarily to be moneyed and privileged. Students choose to enroll in SUCs because these are less expensive and more affordable than private school education to families that may have fewer resources to apportion among their offspring of school-going age.
Many “non-poor” families make the difficult decision to select only one offspring to study in college while letting the other children work to help out with the family expenses or save for their college education.
Studies have shown that the longer a youth is out of the formal educational system, the greater the obstacles preventing or delaying a return to his or her studies. These risks include premature pregnancy, early marriage, and delinquency.
Most SUC students work or apply for scholarships to help them pay not just the tuition but also steep laboratory expenses and other fees required by the school.
College education costs include school projects, thesis, apprenticeship, food, transportation, uniforms, lodging, and other necessities.
However, Licuanan’s prioritization of the poorest still deserves our attention. If the children of the poorest families cannot be aided to reach and finish college, what will this ultimately cost the future generations of their children and grandchildren doomed to be enslaved to poverty, ignorance and powerlessness?
Licuanan has a point in bursting the bubble of false expectations that a tuition-free SUC education will be the magic pill to erase our woes.
“The poorest of the poor… have been knocked out long ago and enrollment of the poorest quintile in higher education is only eight percent,” she said.
More public funds must be infused in programs supporting education at the basic level. This does not just mean supporting preschool, basic, and high school education, but also improving public programs for better maternal and child health care, such as nutrition and protection against disease.
Enhancing the chances of children of the poorest families to enter and finish college means also the foresight and political will to spend for other resources that indirectly but critically mold a person’s readiness for lifelong learning.
For one, there are inadequacies in the number and quality of public libraries, which can supplement the absence or lack of reading opportunities and mentoring in poor families.
More public parks and playgrounds are needed to not just stimulate a child’s sense of discovery and socialization but also provide an alternative to overcrowded housing and the aimlessness of street life and vagrancy.
Are there programs that support single parents and parents of poor families so, while at work, they can leave their children in a safe, learning, and caring environment? Whenever children perish in “home-alone” accidents, society is quick to focus on the parents whose absence or neglect may be due to apathy, vice, or the demands of feeding the family.
Parental lapses are at the root of their children’s school problems, child labor, cyber sex, human trafficking, and other crimes against children.
This partial checklist should make us reflect that it will take more than free tuition in SUCs to secure the future of the poorest of the poor.