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Helping Our Neighbors Achieve Their Dreams

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Richard T. Moore
January 18, 2019

When someone mentions Dreamers these days, the discussion is usually about young people who came to this country with their undocumented immigrant parents. We think of young people who have grown up as Americans and dream of becoming citizens of this great land. However everyone, not only immigrants, has dreams of a better life.

Across America, high school students and their families dream of getting into good, hopefully affordable, colleges. Others may dream of a challenging career in business or an industry where their talents can develop and flourish. Some, who are a bit older than the traditional school-age cohort, seek education or training that had to be postponed after high school for economic or other reasons. These people may now be ready for knowledge to advance or change their career path. Most are in need of informed guidance and support that will help them achieve their dreams.

Fortunately, some rural or suburban regions as well as metropolitan areas are working to fill that need. Local business leaders, educators, and interested citizens are coming together to establish community education foundations supported through government or foundation grants and local fundraising efforts. Partnering with education and community leaders, these education foundations seek to enhance the lives and prospects of our most vulnerable children. ASPA members, as leaders in their communities, could play an important role in establishing or strengthening such organizations where they reside.

Community education foundations often must do more than offer scholarship funds for needy and/or talented youth. The best such efforts do much more than guide students and parents through an increasingly expensive path to post-secondary education or career training. For the community education foundation, this involves organizing civic leadership training, meaningful internship opportunities, and fostering creative arts that help prospective students stand out. It also includes serving as education consumer advocates to help determine the value, as well as the financial cost, of the investment that is modern higher education.

As higher education consumer advocates, community education foundations help prospective students evaluate colleges through several traditional factors such as accreditation, academic reputation, location, size, cost, etc. identified in the College Atlas. However, a community education foundation should also help potential college applicants understand the importance of a college’s fiscal health.

In an August 2017 article entitled “How Fit is Your School,” Matt Schfrin of FORBES discusses the survivability of institutions primarily dependent on tuition income. Recent closings of Wheelock, Mount Ida, and Newbury Colleges in Massachusetts, for example, sent students scurrying to transfer to more stable institutions. These cases present convincing evidence for the need to understand the financial viability of any college. Community education foundations can help by closely monitoring education news, consulting with regional accrediting agencies and being familiar with the higher education landscape.

Another important measure, sometimes related to a college’s financial solvency, is the Undergraduate Retention and Graduation Rates compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics. It’s good to understand, especially for parents or for independent students, whether students have a good chance of completing a four-year degree in four years. High tuition costs or limited tuition discounts and financial aid could force students to work during their college years to pay for college. This can stretch out the degree completion time and put pressure on study time as well.

As important as evaluating the financial health and graduation rates of a college, especially those that are heavily tuition dependent, is the need to research “for profit” colleges or technical schools. Even when such schools are accredited by some third-party organization, there may be no guarantee of educational quality according to a recent report by Nonprofit Colleges Online. Clearly not all for profit colleges or training programs are risky investments for students, but enough complaints were received by the U. S. Department of Education to regulate programs that placed a significant debt burden on students while showing little evidence of positive educational outcomes. Unfortunately, the current leadership of the federal education department has taken steps to ease these new consumer protections.

It could be asked why all of these issues aren’t the responsibility of high school guidance departments. A recent article by James Murphy in The Atlantic offers at least one answer to this question. Murphy writes,

“The significance of counseling is under-recognized by the public. A recent national survey asked what, if taxes were raised to improve local public schools, the money should be spent on first. Just over a third of the respondents said teachers; supplies came next, followed by classes and extracurriculars, infrastructure, and new schools. Counselors came last, with just 6 percent of the sample. David Hawkins of the National Association of College Admissions Counselors identifies counseling as the third and most-neglected component of increasing access to college, alongside financial support and equitable access to a challenging school curriculum.”

Community education foundations are an important resource to complement the work of often-overburdened school guidance departments. At the same time, these foundations give the business community and others the ability to bring their time, talent, and treasure to this much neglected aspect of access to college education and career training to ensure a skilled workforce of the future.

Author:Richard T. Moore has served in both elective and appointed public office at local, state, and federal levels of government. He served for nearly two decades each in the Massachusetts House and Senate, as well as being chosen as President of the National Conference of State Legislatures. He also served in Washington, DC as Associate Director of FEMA in the Clinton Administration and as a Presidential Elector in 1992. A former college administrator and adjunct assistant professor of government at Bentley University and Bridgewater State University, Mr. Moore is a long-time member of ASPA serving terms as Massachusetts Chapter President and National Council member. He was a trustee of Quinsigamond Community College, Worcester, MA (5 years) and has served as a Trustee of Nichols College, Dudley, MA for the past 20 years.

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