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President on a campaign to get low-income students in college

Roger Caldwell

Roger Caldwell

President on a campaign to get low-income students in college

By Roger Caldwell

     President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama held an event at the White House last week, where the goal was to get leaders from universities, non-profits, and foundations to focus on getting low-income students in college. The numbers show that only 30 percent of low-income students enroll in college and 9 percent get a degree.

These numbers prove that only a small percentage of students born in low-income communities actually are able to move out of that environment. I have always believed that corporate America was a closed society, and the majority of successful individuals have a college education.

“The unemployment rates for Americans with a college degree is one-third lower than the national average, and the incomes are two times higher than people with a high school diploma,” says President Obama. In making the appeal, the Obamas, shared their stories at the event, with both of them being Harvard educated lawyers.

The President said if the U.S had not made a commitment as a country to send more its young people to college, “Michelle, me, maybe a few of you would not be here today.”

This is a noble call to action, and I applaud the President and his wife, but I wonder if it is realistic in today’s economic educational world. Even though 140 leaders attended the event and pledged to support the White House, there are thousands that are being judged and evaluated by their bottom line. The one essential incentive to get students to go to college is money, and financial aid is shifting to wealthier families, and not low-income ones.

Colleges are giving small amounts to wealthier families who can afford to pay the rest of the tuition. Low income families need a larger chunk of financial aid and they have a harder time making that adjustment to college life. Everyone knows higher education is the ladder toward economic success, but very few low-income students are able to climb on and stay on.

The First Lady admitted that she would have never gone to Princeton had the school not recruited her older brother to play basketball there. Not knowing anyone but him when she arrived, she felt “a little overwhelmed and a little isolated.” Black students that go to a white university have a harder time than Black students that go to an African American university. Many African Americans are usually the first person in their family that went to college, and when they have problems they have to find someone like them, who understands the issues of college life.

On the other hand, white students have fewer problems because there is more than one generation that has completed higher education. Applicants from wealthier school districts do better on entrance exams, and they get tax breaks, including the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which President Obama signed into law in 2010. The American Opportunity Tax Credit allows households earning as much as $180,000 to claim expenses paid for tuition, fees and other costs related to higher education.

It is great that the President and his wife did an op-ed on education and I believe they truly care, but the system is set up for the rich. The fundamental problem with higher education is that it is not free, and the cost increase every year. The majority of Americans on the lower end of the economic scale will not go to college, because they are unable to afford it.

It is also outstanding that 140 leaders pledged to make a commitment to get low-income students in college. But these 140 leaders have a responsibility to make a profit, and if they don’t make money for the university, they will not have a job.


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