A few weeks ago, I went to a book launch at Georgetown University and heard from a panel that spoke on different topics featured in the book. Entitled “Unleashing Opportunity,” the book is all about the injustice of poverty and why escaping it requires intentionality and teamwork. I haven’t had an opportunity to start the book yet, but the topics discussed during the panel convinced me this was perfect for the Dover UMC community.
The first topic, and the one I want to speak on specifically, was about the graduation gap which refers to the difference in numbers between college enrollment and college graduation. Getting a college degree is one of the most powerful resources in terms of economic vitality in this country. Currently, less than 6% of people with a bachelor’s degree fall below the poverty line. Further, only 11% of first-generation low-income students will receive a four-year degree after six years. For those at a higher income level, that percentage increases to 50%. This is the gap. Because of the evolution of technology and it’s impact on the workforce, there are fewer jobs that do not require a college degree. The statistics show how significant this change has been. “In 1980, people with a four-year college degree earned, on average, 64% more than people without a degree. Now that figure is nearly 100% more.”
The greatest predictor of graduating college is whether your parents graduated from college. Parents that did not go to college have a harder time advocating for their children because they aren’t familiar with how to navigate the system, and services for assisting in the process are few and far between. Low-income students are left to try and make sense of a complicated financial structure, are often dealing with difficult family circumstances which create stress, and are generally preyed upon by loan companies and high interest rates – and that’s if they qualify for loans at all. Students become overwhelmed and discouraged early in college and question whether they can continue. The numbers show that students generally drop out for outstanding bills of less than $1,000.
Parent’s do the best they can, but generational poverty is a serious problem to combat that stands as a significant obstacle for education. Beyond legislation that can make education a level playing field and ensure equal opportunity for everyone regardless of income level, there are things that can be done to help these students. Creating a support system for students is essential. Churches can establish a long-term plan to support students financially, emotionally and educationally. Formation doesn’t happen when students get to college, formation happens long before college is even upon the horizon. Helping mentor students, tutoring students, starting a college fund/scholarship, offering support and resources to parents who are unfamiliar with options (such as how to waive college application fees, etc.), and walking through the process with parents to get their kids through the complicated system…. All of these are ways church members can come alongside students and parents in their congregations. As a community, as a church family, it’s the duty of all to see the youth succeed.
There are more and more kids coming to Dover United Methodist Church all the time. How can we, as a family, commit to supporting these kids and their educational future? Consider this…God has placed these little ones in the care of this community for a reason. What are we going to do about that?
With love, your Methodist Nun.