For generations now, we’ve heard that the goal of education (and life) is to do better than our parents. Families moved from high school dropout to high school graduate to first generation college going. Families shifted from blue collar to white collar. Each step along the way, parents wanted to see their kids do better, to know their children would have it a little easier raising their family, paying their mortgage, and generally getting on with life.
In the Eduflack family, for instance, my maternal grandfather was a high school dropout. He joined the Army, went overseas, and learned how to drive a truck. He returned to the United States five or six years later with a wife and two small children (including Edumother). He joined the Teamsters, became a professional short-haul driver (and then supervisor). He spent his entire career on the loading docks, raising a family of five children, paying his mortgage, and living his version of the American dream. After retirement, he bought a small plot of land in the middle of nowhere Virginia, moving to the solitude he sought most of his life.
His first daughter, Edumother, took a different path. She graduated high school. After high school, she worked three jobs, one of which was as a secretary at Rutgers University. Why? So she could take one free college course each semester. She eventually went on to earn her bachelor’s degree. Then a teaching certificate. Then a master’s degree. She spent most of her career teaching 10th grade English, and while she’d never say it, she is a terrific teacher. She is also the only member of her family who went on to earn a postsecondary education. No matter how you measure it, she did manage to do better than her father’s generation.
Which gets us to the point of this little discussion. This week, a new American Council on Education study reports that today’s younger generation of adults have less education than their parents’ generation. The numbers are particularly bad with blacks and Hispanics (whites and Asians actually have more education, helping close the gap for the overall average). Men, in general, are also less educated than their parents.
The Greenville News has the full story, courtesy of Ed Trust and its Equity Express — www.greenvilleonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20081009/NEWS04/810090316&template=printart.
Why is this so important? We spend so much time talking about the ability to compete in the 21st century economy. We talk about education as the great equalizer. We discuss how a high school diploma is no longer sufficient for career success. We promote the notion that some form of postsecondary education is necessary for all, regardless of their career plans. Yet the numbers show not everyone is listening.
The message is getting lost. Everyone needs postsecondary education, yet in black and Hispanic communities, kids aren’t enrolling. Even if their parents have a college degree, they aren’t necessarily choosing the college option. And for those who enroll, we continue to see huge postsecondary non-completion rates, particularly with the black and Hispanic communities. And more men are no longer seeing the value of a college degree.
Many groups — Jobs for the Future chief among them — have invested significant time and effort encouraging college-going among underserved populations and boosting college-going rates in the black and Hispanic communities. Typically, this means convincing a young student that they have what it takes to be the first in their family to go to college. But if the ACE data is any indication, we have a much larger issue to deal with.
This all boils down to an economic issue, and the past month doesn’t help much. Many go on to college because they see it as a necessary card to hold to get a good job, pay that mortgage, and raise that family. We look at the economic news, and many a high school student can sit there wondering if there are good jobs, if anyone can actually afford to pay for a mortgage (if they can secure one at all), and if the hard work is worth it at all. The challenges are immense.
So what comes next? It is clear we need to promote the value of postsecondary education for all. All students benefit from college, regardless of their potential career path or their current socioeconomic status. All jobs require postsecondary skills, particularly the math, science, and problem-solving skills one gains. And every young person should still hold out hope that they can do as well, or a little better, than their parents.
I’d like to believe my mother gave me opportunities she never received, and as a result, I have measured up to the expectations my parents had for me. Personally, I expect my two little ones are going to far exceed anything and everything I ever accomplish, and will be true leaders in their communities and their careers. I’d also like to believe that ACE is going to take the data it has made available, and invest in a public education campaign to reverse the trend it has uncovered. I never thought I’d say it, but we at least need to aspire to the status quo, with today’s generation at least reaching the educational levels of their parents.