How often have we heard others — or ourselves— utter the phrase “education is more important to our economic success than ever before?” It is increasingly evident that a high school diploma is no longer the ticket to earning a family sustaining wage, and yet we also know the dismal situation. Our college attainment rates are static and inequitable. This fact lies at the heart of our Youth program, compelling us and our grantee partners to find solutions, to expand the number of students who graduate high school and earn a post-secondary credential by the time they are 25. We don’t kid ourselves — we know the issues are complex and that there are no silver bullet solutions — but we do know that we have to do better, and try harder to form new partnerships if we are going to help more young people succeed.
Yesterday, I had the unique privilege of watching the power of partnership in action. At the White House Summit on College Opportunity, I was surrounded by over 100 college presidents, business and nonprofit leaders, and colleagues in the philanthropic sector. I was wholly inspired by the President's and the First Lady's personal call to action to collectively commit to increasing college opportunity for low-income students. I was also inspired by the resounding response that it received: By the end of the day there were hundreds of tangible commitments to tackle the barriers to college opportunity, a palpable sense of enthusiasm to take on the task, and a clear willingness to work differently to get it done for our nation’ young people.
Throughout the day, major barriers were unearthed and key questions raised: How do we connect more low-income students to colleges where they can succeed and help them persist? How do we increase the pool of students preparing for college? How do we reduce inequalities in college advising and test preparation to help more youth gain access to college? How do we strengthen remediation to support the success of students once they are there? The day showcased promising college practices, innovative partnerships between colleges and nonprofit organizations that are moving the needle, and new research that is helping us better understand the evidence.
I was most heartened by a recurring rallying cry: the need to forge stronger partnerships between K-12 and postsecondary education, and for both to more effectively work with the business sector as thought partners in the work. As we work with our grantees and partners to expand the growing field of Linked Learning, we are working hard to build the kind of business partnerships that expose young people to previously unimagined college and career opportunities.
If we are going to truly increase the pool of young people on the path to postsecondary success, we certainly need to broaden dialogue and build bridges to all segments of society. College and career really do go hand in hand. So, if we are going to help more young people reach the goal of both high school and college graduation, we must continue to help them learn early, and often, why education matters and how it helps them achieve their own aspirations.