"A-players are free," says successful entrepreneur and publisher of SUCCESS Magazine Darren Hardy when explaining to entrepreneurs why hiring the best of the best is the best strategy (The Entrepreneur Roller Coaster, p. 131).
According to Hardy, A-players pay for themselves a hundred times over; B and C players drain a company.
This was the first thing I thought of when I heard the proposal for free community college -- "good students are free." Of course, that doesn't mean money isn't involved; you have to pay really good people, and we all understand that a free community college plan doesn't mean no one will have to pay for it. What free means in both of these cases is that good people, people who will contribute their A-game, are a good investment. They don't drain. They produce. They create. They contribute.
Free community college, to me, means investing in something that will pay us back plus interest.
Maybe you don't agree, and that's okay. We can still be friends. However, what I know for sure is that I am so incredibly thankful to all the people who invested in me when I didn't have the money or the belief to invest in myself.
I went to a high school where only 25 percent of my graduating class went on to college. I was a product of what Florida calls the Bright Futures Scholarship, which in 2005 guaranteed 100 percent of tuition and fees at a state school if you got a certain GPA and standardized test score. Knowing that money was available to me gave me an extra push to work harder. It meant that college was always within my reach if I was willing to do the work.
Everyone doesn't have to go to college, nor would I ever look down on anyone who doesn't want to go. But from my travels around the country I've seen too many capable students who want to go, who want to give back, who want a degree, but have such a hard time fighting against the brutal weight of poverty.
Those are the students I must speak out for. The students who deserve exactly what I received and so much more. The students who've had to struggle more than I can ever imagine. The students who want to get an education so they can contribute their skills and improve their life.
This, to me, is why these students are a good investment.
When Gina Rodriguez won a golden globe last night for her role in Jane The Virgin she said "This award is so much more than myself. It represents a culture that wants to see themselves as heroes."
I believe that is what so many community college students want. To be heroes to their kids, their families, their parents, their cultures.
There's a chorus in a song I recently heard by B.o.B. that haunts me; sung by Taylor Swift, it says: "I wish I was strong enough to lift not one but both of us."
I can't speak for all minorities or those who've come from a low-income background, but I can say that for me, this is an anthem that I've carried with me deep down in my heart, something that's been there long before I heard this song, long before I could identify it (which is what also makes it a brilliant line).
The only part that hurts is the sadness in the "I wish" part. The feeling that you're not strong enough yet.
So I want to say this to all students listening to this national conversation, wondering if college is for them or not:
You are strong enough. When you lift yourself, you do lift more than just yourself. You lift all of us. You have so much to give, so much to share. Dedicate yourself to your education. Learn. Grow. Contribute your gifts. And while I think you are a great investment that our country can make, whether or not free community college is offered to you, I hope you know that you are the best investment you can make. Right now.
If community college is a good investment for our country to make it's also a good investment for you to make.
You are a hero.
After my two years in community college I was surprised with the announcement that I had won the Jack Kent Cooke scholarship, which would provide me with $30,000 a year for my bachelor's degree and $50,000 for my master's degree. When the announcement was made, I fell weak in the knees and wept.
What what going through my head at the time? You may think it was something like the theme song for The Apprentice: "MONEY MONEY MONEY MONNNEEYY!"
But it wasn't.
What was going through my head was this:
"People like me don't get masters degrees. My grandma was a maid. My grandpa was a janitor. Masters degrees are for rich people. Smart people. Not people like me."
What brought me to my knees was that deep weed being uprooted within my heart and thrown out. Masters degrees could now be for people like me. Because someone was investing in me. Someone believed in me when I couldn't believe in myself.
And to me, that is one of the greatest potential gifts of the idea of free community college -- the message it sends to our students:
That the American Dream is still alive.
And that we believe in you.