In a commentary report published in Education Week, written by Wendy D. Puriefoy, president of Public Education Network, a national network of local education funds, based in Washington, Puriefoy argues that for far too long, "a child's ZIP code has dictated the quality of [their] education." Meaning, how well-off one's parents are will largely determine whether they will go to college and how burdened with debt they will be if they do.
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Puriefoy maintains that increasing high school educations rates and improving college readiness are vital to an education policy agenda. However, she questions whether these goals are "hollow" promises made to students, considering so many young people will be denied a college education because of costs.
"Students need to be not only academically capable of doing college work, but also financially capable of attending college," she writes. "Thus, the K-12 community also must take up the banner of access to college-academic, financial, and otherwise."
Puriefoy goes on to include statistics about how the United States was "the unchallenged leader" in college-completion rates forty years ago. Today, the U.S. ranks 12th among developed nations in the percentage of young people who complete college, she writes.
In short, the affordable education of old has disappeared and the higher education system in American today-"once the great ladder to success for so many Americans-is now like a heavy gate that opens easily for some, opens with difficulty for others, and slams shut on millions more," she writes.
This is due, in part, by income inequality, which is exponentially rising-even more so among people of color.
A 2012 report by the Lumina Foundation indicates that 59 percent of Asian Americans and 43 percent of whites between ages 25 and 64 have two- or four-year college degrees, while 27 percent of young African-Americans, and just 19 percent of Hispanics, hold degrees.
By and by, a nation that doesn't put forth more affluence in educating its young people will ultimately pay for the consequences in return, Puriefoy argues.
"Instead of boosting the nation's economy, those without college degrees will dampen national output, depend more heavily than others on government benefits, and pay less in taxes," she writes.
Puriefoy offers several suggestions on how community organizations can help schools increase high school graduation and college-attendance rates for low-income and minority students:
- Set up Local Education Funds, or LEFs.
- Develop student tracking tools, such as New Visions for Public Schools, in New York City, that attentively monitor students' progress throughout the year.
In sum, Puriefoy writes, the United States needs to invest in initiatives that level the playing field for young people of all backgrounds to attend college by making it more affordable through preparing and monitoring students' college readiness.