Tuesday, July 22, 2008

College Access: A Case for K-12 Encouragement

By Uchechi C. Amadi, Summer Intern at the Kirwan Institute

The look on her face as she flurried around the house was exceptional. She was used to throwing parties, but this one was different; this one was special. As she busied herself in the kitchen, she took a moment to rest her hand on the table marking our accomplishments. There sat two graduation caps, two Kente cloths marking our heritage, and two college diplomas—one adorned with the Wright State University emblem and the other dressed in Scarlet and Gray. In the same month, the football star and the bookworm, two of her babies, had become college graduates. She couldn’t be prouder.

She retained the glow of a mother seeing her kids graduate, but a glint in her eye suggested a greater satisfaction. Perhaps she realized that the odds had been against us. The statistics say nearly one-half of all college-qualified, low- and moderate-income high school graduates prepared to attend a four-year college are unable to do so. This is largely due to the rising cost of higher education and community messages that question the necessity of obtaining degrees. The statistics could have applied to us, but thankfully, we had developed a system over the years wherein we learned to cling to each other for support.

It is not a big secret that many from disadvantaged backgrounds lack the resources, support systems and encouragement necessary to pursue higher education. No single solution exists, but by planting the seed in grades K-6 and intensifying encouragement to attend in grades 7-12, progress can be made. Arguably, there is no greater inequality than the loss of opportunity. University and non-profit led programs that target those from disadvantaged backgrounds and allow them to see that college graduation is achievable should be promoted, for they help students stay connected to their dreams even in the midst of failing schools, jaded guidance counselors and over-worked teachers. OSU’s Economic Access Initiative is already doing its part. In late May, the Columbus Dispatch wrote about Blueprint: College, a program that provides higher education information to Columbus Public School kids and their families years before they have to apply. At the back end, the Kirwan Institute is also helping. The Democratic Merit Initiative and Middle College Multicultural Educational Exchange Program encourage integration in schools and help ensure that there is some place for students to attend after high school graduation.

These both are effective organizational initiatives, but individuals can help as well. Discuss college with a neighbor, mention it to a younger relative, perhaps even serve as mentor; once you plant the seed, the idea will have years to grow.

Economic Access Initiative: http://osu.edu/access/
College Access Statistic: www.luminafoundation.org/publications/Focus03.pdf
Columbus Dispatch Article: http://www.dispatch.com/live/content/local_news/stories/2008/05/19/college.ART_ART_05-19-08_B1_4HA85RA.html?sid=101

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