Shared from the 12/27/2018 Bakersfield Californian eEdition

COMMUNITY VOICES

Bringing higher education to our youth

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DAVID FRANZ

We have a lot of young people in Shafter. I was reminded of this again watching my kids and their classmates perform Christmas music to standing room crowds of proud parents and squirmy siblings. These crowded cafeterias embody the demographic fact of Kern County’s youthfulness.

Kern County is the size of a small state — New Jersey by area, South Dakota by population (and gaining fast on Delaware). Partly because we are one of the few places in the state that is affordable for families, we are home to many children. Around 30 percent of Kern County’s population is under 18, which is third highest in California (behind Tulare and Merced). We have as many residents as San Francisco County, but more than twice as many children. The youngest parts of Kern County are in the outlying areas. Arvin’s population is 37 percent children and Shafter’s 33 percent. As we grow into our lanky geographic body, we should be preparing for the next step in schooling: higher education.

There are many studies on the economic value of college, but people get it. More than half of our high school students choose college right after graduation. Many others go back to school later.

As a region, higher education is important to us in less obvious ways. As Kern County grows, we will need people in board rooms around the state to share our perspective and represent our interests. We often complain about how we are treated by far off elites. We need our own people in those rooms. A degree is part of the cost of entry.

So how do we educate this wave of young people? Rural geography is itself part of the challenge. Community college tuition is a bargain at less than $2,000 per year, but the cost of a long commute — a car, parking, gas, repairs and time away from work and family — is higher and generally not covered by financial aid.

The most efficient solution to distance is to bring college classrooms to students. Bakersfield College is doing this now with its Department of Rural Initiatives, offering evening classes around the county in our high schools and community centers, and growing offerings at its Delano Center and soon, thanks to Measure J, growing capacity in Arvin and Shafter.

This is hard work and it is far from complete, but that is no cause for despair. If you are feeling down about human capital in Kern County, I encourage you to come to a school band concert in Shafter and see that we really are a young county. We may or may not succeed in becoming all we can be, but the potential is there, the opportunities are clear and the future is in our hands.

David Franz is the director of the Shafter Education Partnership in the city of Shafter.

Community college tuition is a bargain at less than $2,000 per year, but the cost of a long commute — a car, parking, gas, repairs and time away from work and family — is higher and generally not covered by financial aid.

See this article in the e-Edition Here