Helping one million more low income students realize their dreams and attain college degrees is the goal of the One Million More campaign, announced recently by College For Every Student (CFES) CEO & President Rick Dalton at the organization's 18th annual national conference. I had the pleasure of attending both days of the conference, which was held on November 7 and 8.
Nearly 450 high school and college-level CFES Scholars, K-16 educators, corporate and philanthropic leaders, traveled from 30 states and Ireland to convene in Burlington, VT for the two-day conference. The audience welcomed Dalton's challenge: CFES, in a partnership with Trinity College Dublin, will scale up its successful program by helping one million students attain college degrees by 2025.
In his opening remarks, Dalton delivered some sobering information.
In America today, if your parents didn't graduate from high school, your odds of attaining a college degree are very slim: one in twenty.
At a time when the U.S. needs a skilled educated workforce more than ever, we are projected to be short 20 million workers over the next decade. This lack of uplift promises economic disaster. Young people need a college degree or a postsecondary certificate to be economically relevant today.
New York Times columnist and PBS commentator David Brooks urged CFES Scholars not to dwell upon "resume virtues" -- accomplishments and titles -- but rather to focus on "eulogy virtues" -- values and character.
Also addressing educators and other attendees was Dr. Patrick Prendergast, Provost of Trinity College Dublin, who praised "the three CFES core practices that build school-goers' confidence and create a 'college-going culture' within the school." Trinity is now implementing CFES programs in 11 Irish schools.
Judge Glenda Hatchett, author and star of her own television show, delivered a motivational speech to participants: "In order to succeed, set goals, make a plan, persevere and don't ever give up, never quit."
A plenary discussion focused on Ivory Tower, the Sundance Film Festival documentary that questions the value of college as an unsustainable economic model. Andrew Rossi, the film's writer, director and producer, started off by showing a twenty-minute clip from Ivory Tower, and then sharing his thoughts on why he made the film.
Panelist Dr. Pam Eddinger, president of Bunker Hill Community College in Boston followed, describing America's community colleges, which enroll 48 percent of all college-going students, as "Grades 13 and 14" in the U.S. higher education system.
Eddinger agreed with Rossi's premise that American public education policy -- at both the federal and state levels -- is failing. "America's ongoing disinvestment in public institutions has forced those institutions to raise prices beyond a level that many low income students can afford to pay. So, they borrow. Often, they borrow more than they can later afford to repay. Education is not a privilege; it's a right," she declared.
The final panelist, Dr. Jeffrey Herbst, president of Colgate University, countered Ivory Tower assertions. He said, "The cost of college is an important, but complex issue. It's hard to generalize about higher education. In the United States, we have 4,000 colleges and universities that are highly diverse...and our higher education system is without rival in the world." Herbst acknowledged that "the sticker price" (cost of tuition room and board and fees) is high, particularly at private institutions. "But," he told the conference, "the sticker price is not the one you should consider. Your 'net tuition' cost -- what you'll actually have to pay after financial aid is awarded -- is what you need to know and consider."
Herbst urged CFES Scholars to become educated consumers and make good choices, to recognize that college is a 'lifetime investment," that the real financial issue is "Return on Investment," and to be very careful about taking on student debt. Finally, Herbst said, "It's not enough just to go to college, you have to graduate and you have to graduate on time."
Two CFES educators were recipients of this year's Mario Peña Award, named in honor and memory of a former CFES Board member, the award is presented annually to exceptional educators who help CFES develop and expand school-college collaborations that increase college access and success for underserved youth. The 2014 Peña Award winners were Becky Powierza, a sixth-grade teacher at Diehl Elementary School in Erie, Pennsylvania and United States Army Lt. Col. Donald Outing, Chief Diversity Officer at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Sharing the spotlight with the Peña Award winners were representatives from 25 CFES college partners that were recognized for ongoing support in opening up their campuses and providing students, faculty, financial aid and admissions staff to support CFES Scholars. These institutions represent a mosaic of U.S. higher education -- ranging from SUNY Adirondack to New York University to the University of Hawaii to the United States Naval and Military Academies.
CFES School of Distinction Awards were presented to 32 CFES partner schools. President & CEO Dalton expressed CFES's continuing gratitude to several corporate partners that support thousands of CFES Scholars across the country, particularly the GE Foundation and Ernst & Young.
In a conference debriefing, Dalton said: "A major conference objective was to get people to understand the importance of 'going to scale,' ...and motivate our partners to help us accomplish this in a decade. We accomplished this and more. Now it's about building the partner base and infrastructure... We're going to get it done."