On April 12, 2017, the state of New York became the first state to offer free four-year college tuition to any public New York university. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo made the program a legislative priority that has both supporters and dissenters of the recent development. An array of political figures and voices have been calling for free higher education in the country, and this passing of the Excelsior Scholarship, the name of the new program, could serve as a turning point in that debate.
Colorado has produced its own line-up of political advocates for education reform, one of them being former state legislator Mike Johnston. Proven to be instrumental in pursuing an educational agenda throughout his political career, Johnston sponsored the READ Act in 2012, which provided $20 million to school districts for additional literacy support programs. Additionally, he served as an education adviser on the 2008 presidential campaign for Barack Obama, was elected for two terms in the state senate and most notably, he co-sponsored the ASSET Bill (Advancing Students for a Stronger Economy Tomorrow) in 2013, which grants in-state tuition for students in the country illegally who graduate from Colorado high schools.
With his extensive political achievements in the state of Colorado, Johnston is hoping to take it even further after announcing, earlier this year, his bid to run for Colorado governor in 2018. At his announcement, Johnston promised to provide two years of debt-free college or job training to residents who serve the state. With the recent news coming out of New York, the momentum could carry out into other states hoping to do the same. The Excelsior Scholarship could be the political push needed to pass legislature that politicians like Johnston have advocated for a long time.
In an interview with Westword following his announcement to run, they asked him about the most important issues in the race for governor in 2018. He said, “I think the most important one is, how do we make sure Colorado is in a position to help drive the new economy and not be dragged behind the old one?” A commitment to offering free higher education could be the necessary measure to equip the state with the resources it needs to stay ahead of the curve.
For years, the state of Colorado has ranked in the top states for most educated, fastest growing and the best for labor supply. However, with the national accolades comes a commitment to further progressing and developing our economic and educational programs. Johnston has already placed his bid for governor in 2018, and soon other potential candidates will do the same. Whether Coloradans feel that the state is in good standing or not is up to them. Whether they feel Johnston is the man for the job will also be up to them. New York has made its move, and only time will tell if Colorado will be up next.