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The Ups and Downs of Going Higher

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As the unemployment numbers grow grimmer by the day, everyone is hoping for an end in sight, but no one knows for sure when that will happen. The March unemployment rate has reached a 25 year high at 8.5 percent. Upon further inspection of the unemployment numbers, I discovered an eye-opening fact--for people with at least a bachelor's degree, the March unemployment rate was at only 4.3 percent; however, for Americans with only a high school diploma, the unemployment rate more than doubled to 9.0 percent. If anyone needed statistics attesting to the power of education, there you have it.

While education has always been important to me, the current state of our economy makes it more important than ever. Although a college degree will not guarantee job stability, it adds increased security in tenuous economic times. This will not be the last recession our country experiences, so it is important to be prepared when another downturn strikes. As important, when the economic engine regains its steam, education will serve as that competitive edge to gaining or maintaining employment.

What I'm finding amid the rubble of the economy is that many people would love to go back to school to expand their educational horizons and increase their marketability, but confront the barriers of time, money and confidence.

A Philadelphian woman, Angela Yu, is one of those individuals. She is a mother who thought the idea of juggling schoolwork, work and parenthood seemed insurmountable. But Angela found hope in online education. She had the good fortune of being awarded a full-ride scholarship as part of a program called "Project Working Moms and Dads Too". It's a program that provides full-tuition online college scholarships.

Now, Angela is going back to school to get her bachelor's degree in early childhood education and ultimately fulfill her dream of becoming a teacher. "This scholarship has made me feel powerful and given me the strength and belief that I can do anything to which I set my mind," said Angela.

Project Working Mom represents a microcosm of the overall education crisis among American adults. This small campaign has generated more than 300,000 applications for the scholarships, showing an overwhelming demand for financial aid as people aspire to go back to school.

But, this isn't just about the parent going back to school for the parent's sake, it is setting the expectations for the next generation of American citizens. My uncle, who serves as the dean of Boston University's School of Education led me to a book that shows how important education is for parents to build future leaders. The book "Consequences of Growing Up Poor" by Greg Duncan and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn looked at the education of mothers and found that their education level is a leading indicator of how children will perform in school. This research backs up what I have always believed - to help children improve their lives we need to first help parents improve their own life.

Despite widespread confirmation of the importance of a college degree, the sad reality is that only 17 percent of the U.S. adult population has a bachelor's degree, according to 2007 figures from the U.S. Department of Labor. So, while conversation continues over the economic stimulus to catalyze America's economic engine, there needs to be a rally cry around the faltering intellectual engine of this great country, which needs financial fuel. Empowering people to go higher--as in higher education--is not a luxury anymore, it is a necessity.

Unfortunately there are not enough discussions about the crisis surrounding the affordability of a college education. As a country, we need to do more to help people, particularly adults, afford a college education.

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