As the mayor of Delano and a recent college graduate, I know what it is like struggling to afford college.
The costs of higher education — from skyrocketing tuition to student hunger and homelessness and student loan debt — prevent Central Valley students from getting degrees and ultimately better jobs. Californians agree that we need to spend more on job training programs and higher education, but our representative David Valadao is shutting down those ideas in Congress.
My experiences growing up in Delano are similar to so many families across the Central Valley. After immigrating from Mexico, my parents met in Southern California and moved to Delano when I was 7 years old. Like so many families here, they worked hard to build a better life for me and our family. Even with hard work and doing the right thing, it is hard for young people and families to get ahead here. I have seen estimates showing that just 7 percent of students from Delano are able to get a bachelor’s degree— mirroring the barriers to the middle class that we see in places like Bakersfield, Fresno and Stockton. That is also what makes my story unusual: I was given the opportunity to go to college, and be the first person in my family to earn a college degree.
I believe more families should have the opportunity to do the same. We need more students and workers graduating with degrees not just from four-year universities, but also places like Bakersfield College and West Hills College. The job certificates and associate’s degrees from a community college can help people get union jobs that pay fair and living wages with good benefits. But right now, too many potential college students are held back by one thing: the costs.
Nationwide, we have seen huge numbers of students leave college during the pandemic, largely because of the costs. Those numbers have been especially high for Black, Latino, and Native American students whose communities have been most impacted by COVID-19. Research from the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice finds that nearly 3 in 5 students have experienced hunger and housing insecurity while trying to stay afloat in college during the pandemic. While many colleges in the Central Valley offer help with tuition, often the additional costs of college such as books, meals and rent make community colleges more expensive for students than attending a four-year university.
Problems of this magnitude require bold solutions. That is why I am excited by proposals from President Biden to make two years of community college tuition-free for everyone, provide the largest increase to the Pell Grant in generations, and offer scholarships to low-income students to help them complete college. These ideas are a part of President Biden’s Build Back Better Agenda to help our country recover from the pandemic, and have broad support from voters of both parties.
Unfortunately, that bipartisanship has not extended to Congress where our representative David Valadao and his Republican colleagues remain in lockstep opposition to this part of the president’s agenda. There is potential bipartisan support for funding for roads and bridges, but that same support does not extend to children, families and students in the Central Valley. Why are Republicans in Congress only willing to support money for roads and bridges, but not education and workforce development when we need educated people to rebuild our country?
We need leaders representing Delano in Washington, D.C., who understand why higher education is essential to earning a good job and getting ahead.
Even without support from Valadao, Congress may be able to pass President Biden's agenda for higher education. But this issue highlights yet another reason why we need new and better representation in Washington, D.C. We cannot have politicians representing us who are out of lockstep with what everyday people are experiencing in our district. That is why I am running to represent California’s 21st Congressional District and replace Rep. Valadao in Washington, D.C.
I want to help President Biden carry out his agenda for tuition-free community college and new investments in children and families. Families like ours deserve representatives who get it. With your vote, I will make sure that families, students and young people have a voice in the next Congress.
Together, we can build the Central Valley into a place where stories like mine are no longer the exception.
Bryan Osorio is the mayor of the City of Delano, the second-largest city in Kern County. As the son of Mexican immigrants, he has been inspired by the legacy and activism in the Central Valley.