THE BLOG
12/23/2014 10:49 pm ET Updated Feb 22, 2015

Clarity About Disparity in Education

I'm not an economist, I'm not a politician. I'm not a demographer. I'm an educator who has to be well aware of economics, the political climate, and the demographics that impact education.

I'm an educator who is the president of Saint Paul College, the only public 2-year community and technical college in Saint Paul, the capital city of Minnesota. Our college sits on a hill overlooking the beautiful downtown area of Saint Paul. Just to the south of us is the Cathedral of Saint Paul. Just to the north of us is the Capitol Building. We have spectacular views of both. I've heard some refer to us as being seated between "God and the Governor." Having the privilege of our location reminds me daily of the obligations we have to everyone around us. We're a public institution. We serve the people of Saint Paul and the surrounding metro area. No matter anyone's religion, politics or station in society, we welcome students with open enrollment policies. After over 100 years, our mission is still "Education for Employment...Education for Life." We hold true to our mission, and hope to ignite in our students the knowledge that we believe in them, in their purpose and their own motivation -- that when they start here, they can go anywhere.

As an educator and representative of this fine institution, I walk the halls every chance I get so that I can talk to our students to make sure that I am seeing them beyond any statistic that we need to quote in our reports and responsibilities as a public institution. We certainly do need the statistics and metrics compiled locally, regionally and nationally to give us a broad overview of facts and trends as they play a great role in decisions being made legislatively, or by those awarding grants, and other supporters of the College. All of these statistics point to one sure thing: there is still great disparity in education, most of the disparity derived from poverty, the "have nots." This disparity in education needs to be addressed daily in an intentional matter. We need to bring clarity to the disparity, and need a spotlight on it until all who want to get a good education have the means to do so.

We need to level the playing field. Unless you have been in poverty, have experienced the despair and hopelessness felt by those in our society who are disenfranchised, you cannot know what it is really like. We can empathize, sympathize, and imagine what this disparity feels like, but there is no way we can know what it is really feels like. Even "walking in someone's shoes" for a period of time, can only give a glimmer of the reality. If we only "walk a mile" in their shoes, we are not walking in their day-to-day lives. All of the good people of this nation who are helping put the spotlight on this despair and disparity, must renew and redouble efforts.

We must level the playing field as much as possible. We must correct the imbalances. I'm not suggesting that we lower the bar or that we don't hold people accountable. We should not focus on hand-me-downs, but instead keep offering a hand up to those in need. We don't want to be the well-intentioned parent doing the child's homework and expecting that the child will be proud. We don't want to cripple someone with our good intentions, but to give everyone the tools needed to complete their vision for themselves.

In this case a level playing field means making sure everyone has the same equipment to compete -- that's a moral victory for anyone. All of our partnerships, from making early childhood education available to making college possible, are parts of the solution. There is no one answer -- but the solution is to rid this country of what ails us that still causes such disparity in education. It's a "Win. Win."

We need all the voices in our classrooms, the discourse of real society in every classroom, from the perspective of the dislocated worker to the young adult straight out of high school; they find value in each other -- that's what we see in our classrooms. Not everyone is the same. Maybe the idealism of youth reawakens idealism of someone else -- the realist brings a sobering, yet valuable viewpoint and perspective to the naïveté of youth.

It is a societal disparity that shows up glaringly in early education, in the very youngest of children. Don't take privilege for granted. Spread the word -- education is worth it, it is necessary. We need every child -- indeed everyone -- to have access to learning in a safe, welcoming and stimulating environment.

Perhaps not everyone has to go to college. Perhaps not everyone wants to go to college. But it is imperative that anyone and everyone who has the desire to go to college, has the opportunity. For those not prepared for college, it is up to everyone to do what they can to see that those who need help in preparing academically for college, will have avenues opened up to them so that they can proactively help themselves to get to college, graduate, and go on to gainful employment, earning a livable wage. No one needs a free ride. Strings must be attached. Students must be held accountable to achieve -- we just don't want to set anyone up for failure.