Opinions & Editorials

Opinion: Educators overlook an achievement gap

By Nick Palm

Education in the United States is in jeopardy. It’s a big enough issue that students are missing out on a higher education because of their ethnicity, income level, gender or sexual orientation. But one more disadvantage has been added to the list—their parents never went to college.

On April 30, City College’s board of trustees unanimously passed a measure to ensure equal opportunity and treatment for all students by eliminating ethnic achievement gaps.

Under the new resolution, the college will now collect data from all students including ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, immigrant status, language and ability in order to pinpoint which areas need the most support. Annual data will be compiled and reported by the chancellor. That report will then be used to evaluate, assess and make new policies, which will eliminate any imbalance in City College’s learning environment.

The problem goes much deeper than the same ethnic equality issues America has been dealing with for centuries: It goes deeper than black and white. We are dealing with a class equality issue. Poor and disadvantaged people are struggling to go to college.

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, the rate of college enrollment has risen for high-income students each year since 1972. The children of economic dynasties are attending college more than ever before, while the low-income families are staying away from post-secondary education.

Among 1992 high school graduates whose parents had not gone to college, 59 percent had enrolled in some form of higher education by 1994. This rate increased to 75 percent among those whose parents had some college experience, and 93 percent among those who had at least one parent with a bachelor’s degree, according to “First Generation College Students: A Literary Review.”

The United States government has set up Gaining Early Awareness for Undergraduate Programs and TRIO, two programs to make it possible for first generation college students to succeed. GEAR UP supplies grants to low income students who want to succeed in a post-secondary education. TRIO — named for three programs that originated in the 1960sare six outreach and support services intended to motivate and support youth from disadvantaged backgrounds toward going to college.

Since its inception in 1998, the GEAR UP program guided over 215,000 low-income students and helped disadvantaged California middle school students to raise their learning curve to the state-mandated level through grants to their schools. Currently, almost 1 million American students are receiving funding through the TRIO programs. The Council for Opportunity in Education states two-thirds of TRIO recipients must come from families whose parents have not graduated from college and have incomes under $33,000.

The Board of Trustees plans to begin working closer with the San Francisco Unified School District in the future. The Board wants to ensure the school district is doing all it can to prepare students for college — not only to achieve while attending but to eventually graduate.

Considering City College serves 23 to 30 percent of the students graduating from San Francisco high schools, this interdistrict cooperation should have started a long time ago. Students must be informed of resources like the TRIO programs, which can help many San Francisco youth become first generation college students. Every high school senior should be required to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

Currently the SFUSD has the right idea, but getting students ready for college is only part of the solution. Because parents are such a major influence in their children’s lives, they must be trained to give support and motivation, and to teach them the importance of getting a post-secondary education.

The First Five California program has been teaching parents the importance of brain development during the first five years of a child’s life. Although this is undoubtedly a crucial time for children to learn, it must continue after age five. A child must be challenged by parents, teachers and peers alike to succeed throughout adolescence and into adulthood, both academically and personally.

Educating parents to encourage their children to succeed will show results by the time that child is in high school and ready to make an important decision about the future of their education.

It’s a well known fact that the American education system needs a lot of work.  But I am pleased that City College has promised to make an honest attempt to change the trend.

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