The societal benefits of accessible and affordable education


By Ariel Paige Tomlinson

Everyone, despite any socioeconomic standing, should have the financial backing to be able to thrive during and after college once in the workforce. When it comes down to the ideals of what some American citizens consider safe, a lot can be said. I believe investing in the future of our citizens is what truly secures this country being safe and secure being that all of us represent it. Securing people with accessible, affordable education — and thus a better chance at living a better life through access to better jobs, wages and vocational benefits, like guaranteed health insurance — is a great start.

Ariel, left, is a social and mental health activist who’s pursuing her bachelor’s degree at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

In the fifth grade I was told that I could achieve anything and everything I put my mind to, especially in the realm of education. However, with the ever-constant rise of costs for college and the resources needed to thrive and succeed within, the future can look pretty bleak for those with and or without collegiate ambitions.

In America, college is sold as the key to the “American Dream.” On the other painfully realistic hand, for most people, the back-breaking expenses of tuition, overpriced text books and a merciless loan system can be an absolute nightmare for years after a degree even reaches a fingertip. For most people, college seems to be something that is out-of-reach because of the Goliath expenses that come with it. This is especially true for low-income students and students of color.

This summer, Ariel and her Young Invincibles colleagues Sandy and Carly presented campus mental health policy and program ideas to CDHE executive director Dr. Angie Paccione.

Throughout my academic career, college and its importance were drilled into my head as a means to open up the doors to a lifetime of success and financial security. As a black woman raised by a single parent on the lines of poverty, going after college and all of its promises have always been very important to me. To me, college was a ticket to breaking free from the stagnant, depressing, dead end circumstances that poverty and a lack of education can perpetuate.

Now that I am half way done with working on my bachelor’s degree, I can say that my higher education journey has definitely opened up doors while delivering opportunities and experiences I would have never known about had I not sought a postsecondary education. Throughout my academic journey, I have always wanted my friends and younger siblings to experience what I have. Unfortunately, the majority of the younger people I talk to are discouraged because of the costs of college. I don’t blame them. The cost of school has given me second thoughts about wanting to continue my academic career.

So, what can we do about it? In spring of this year, I was lucky enough to work with a nonprofit organization called Young Invincibles where I learned about the Higher Education Act. The HEA was created to ensure that college could be affordable and accessible for all. Unfortunately, up until recently, the HEA hadn’t been looked at nor reauthorized for 11 years.

Ariel is a leader with Young Invincibles, a nonprofit dedicated to amplifying the voices of young adults in the political process and expanding economic opportunity.

Recently great news arrived in the form of the College Affordability Act, which aims to implement important changes to some of the aid programs that help students who need it the most. These changes include increasing the maximum Pell grant amount while also tying Pell grants to inflation rates. This would help to curb the amount of loans students in need take out each year.

The act also seeks to make financial aid more accessible to people whose lives have been impacted by the criminal justice system being that most of these people are nonviolent offenders and often impoverished people of color. Finally, the act would protect undocumented but otherwise qualified student’s accessibility to financial aid.

All of this is a beautiful start to making sure that everyone has the chance they deserve in accessing the economic doors that higher education can open. We all can work together to put pressure on Congress to turn this act into law and bring more opportunity to all of the talented people out there who are just asking for a chance to thrive.

Ariel Paige Tomlinson is a social and mental health activist from Cheverly Maryland, raised in Colorado. She is currently seeking her Bachelor’s degree at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

Our Student Voices series publishes blog posts written by Colorado undergraduate and graduate students. Interested in contributing? Email Lindsay Sandoval at



Colorado Department of Higher Education

Official Account for the Colorado Department of Higher Education emphasizing access and affordability for all. #highered #StateOfCo #edcolo