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All Children Deserve Access to College

By Ryan M. Tracy

contestWhen I am speaking to parents and even teachers about college or “college readiness,” someone almost always says “Well, college is not for everyone.” What then happens is that the whole room begins to agree and heads shake and someone ends up saying, “Some kids just don’t need to go to college to be successful” or “Hey, my friend’s neighbor’s son didn’t go to college and he is fine.”   

Interestingly, folks who are making these statements are rarely talking about their own children.  In fact, when you ask the parents in a room if they want their children to go to college, 100% of them believe their children are capable of attending and finishing college.  I agree that not every student has to go to college to be successful.  Many students do well in other “trade” areas, start their own business, and are happy without a completed degree; but we should never limit the abilities of our children.

According to a July 2010 Commercial Appeal Article here in Memphis, Mimeo.com, a privately owned digital printing company headquartered out of New York had great difficulty hiring skilled workers.  The article stated “that after sifting through at least 20 applications for every person hired in lower level jobs….four out of five job-seekers flunk a basic skills test.”  We have a huge unemployment rate in Memphis and we need to take a closer look as to why there is such a large gap.  It isn’t that we aren’t creating jobs.  We don’t have people to fill them.  We don’t have a skilled workforce and while it might be assumed that our public education system along with a parents understanding of “how” to make sure their child is on track to do well at school is are the root causes, I also think we often limit our children’s ability because of perceptions that some kids are “smart” and some kids are “dumb.”  However, this basic misconception and stereotype is not going to move our country forward, but it will hinder us from growth and progress.  While many of our low income and underserved children are not even meeting basic skills to strive in this world today, the truth is just having basic skills is not going to be enough in 15-20 years and we must strive for more. 

Achieve, the Future Ready Project which was founded at the National Education Summit by leading governors and business leaders, published a great paper on their website entitled, “What does College and Career Readiness Really Mean.”  According to the paper, about 40 years ago, 72% of U.S. jobs were held by individuals with a high school degree or less. By 2018, only 38% of jobs will be available to individuals without some education and training after high school.[1] What this means is that jobs that require more training and education are going to increase and if we don’t educate our children and change our perceptions about low-income and underserved students, we are going to have an even larger skills gap than we have now.

We are working diligently to teach parents in our Stand UP classes, facts like the ones above, but also what it means to set high expectations for their children and to believe that all children can do well in school now and achieve college.  Even if the child opts out of college, they should be prepared for the world around them.  We are discussing how we must put aside assumptions, stereotypes, and excuses that plague our children from really striving and being successful because to make excuses or stereotypes only cripples children.  What we are pushing parents to dream for their kids is not only have the basic skills necessary for jobs, but to think bigger and brighter about their child’s future and help them think about what it means to be college and career ready.  The paper published on the Achieve website also outlines some great explanations of what college and career readiness means:

What is “COLLEGE” ready?

College readiness means a student has the knowledge and skills to enter into college without the need of remedial coursework.  It means the student is prepared for any postsecondary education or training experience, including study at a two- and four-year institutions leading to a postsecondary credential (i.e. a certificate, license, Associates or Bachelor’s degree).

What is “CAREER” ready?

Career readiness means a person can provide a family-sustaining wages and has pathways to advancement; Career readiness always requires postsecondary training or education and impliesthat a high school graduate has the knowledge and skills needed to qualify for and succeed in the postsecondary job training and/or education necessary for their chosen career. 

We must hold higher standards for what we believe our children can accomplish and education must be a continued priority in our community.  This idea not only needs to be shared and believed in our schools but also in our homes.  We should settle for nothing less than higher graduation and college entrance rates and students prepared for the world.  In order to achieve this, we have to look beyond old stereotypes and beliefs that college is only for a select few and demand that all children are pushed beyond where they are now and strive for success and attainment of being college and career ready.  As we like to say to the parents, “Do you want your child to be living with you at age 25 due to the fact that they are not capable of “doing life” on their own?”  And the chuckled comments are always the same, “NO, what do we need to do to make sure that doesn’t happen.” So as Frederick Douglass calls us to action and remember, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

[1] Carnevale, Anthony P. et al. (June 2010). Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements Through 2018. Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce.  ww9.georgetown.edu/grad/gppi/hpi/cew/pdfs/FullReport.pdf

Posted on October 18, 2012 by Ryan M. Tracy

Ryan is the Tennessee Family Engagement Manager for Stand for Children, a grassroots national advocacy organization. He designs and implements family engagement programs and is currently a leader in the organization's 10-week Stand UP (University for Parents) which focuses on curriculum of the home and school. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

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Tags: *Educational Policy, *Parent Engagement at Home , *School-Family Partnership, Ed Reform, Non college-bound


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