Education Nation

Commentary: It Takes A Path To Higher Ed

Allowing capable, low-income kids equal access to higher education creates a richer, stronger America. It powers the United States to a lead position in the race to produce a globally-competitive workforce and builds an on-ramp to the middle class for families stranded in poverty, generation after generation.

This restructuring of the system toward education equity is what people in my field term higher education "access," and its creation is both more complex and simpler than most people imagine. If you're envisioning throwing open the ivy gates by funding overflowing scholarship coffers and comprehensive tutoring to ease the entrance into Calculus 101, you're spot on. But, there's more to it than that.

The truth is we're looking at low-income students across a chasm of information and experience gaps that cannot be closed by financial aid or remedial courses alone. New research shows that these gaps are readily filled, however, with strong relationships, preparation, and imagination coaching several years ahead of college entrance and continuing through college graduation.

At College Possible, we help low-income students achieve college admission and success by providing ACT/SAT test preparation, college application assistance, financial aid consulting, guidance in the college transition, and support toward college degree completion. Here's how we view college access:

•Access means access to actionable information. We know that when students receive financial aid information and coaching, entrance exam tutoring and campus visit guidance, we level the playing field.

•Access means access to an imagination mentor. When students have the support of an adult who helps them silence a lifetime of voices telling them they're not "college material," they can imagine college and they can make it happen.

•Access means our country graduating to better times. Georgetown University projects that the American workforce will fall millions short of the total educated workers needed by 2020. Educating our capable, low-income students is not only the right thing to do, but also it addresses a systemic injustice that is endangering our economy.

•Access is not enough. Low-income students drop out of college at five times the rate of their middle and upper income peers. Graduating more capable, low-income students requires continued mentorships designed to help students brave the unfamiliar, challenging territory of college.