How going to college affects future generations of your family

How going to college affects future generations of your family

DANETTE HOWARD: I don’t think that we want a society that is based upon stratification, where there are these huge,

significant differences by income and by educational level. And by the kinds of jobs that people get. We have to do something to address educational inequities by race and ethnicity if we hope

to be a country that is fair and just, and where there is really equal opportunity for everyone.

When I was six months old, my mom returned back to school and started working on her bachelor’s degree. It took my mom eight long years to earn her bachelor’s degree. I remember the day she graduated, I was in the third grade, and it was an incredible celebration. The beautiful thing about what happens when you are the first in your family to get a college degree is that it not only changes the trajectory of your life but the trajectory of the life of everyone in your family line who comes after you.

It’s not enough that some of us have those credentials, that some of us are able to live the American dream. Everyone should have the opportunity to determine the path that is best for him or her. If you look back at the very beginning of higher education in the United States, higher education was designed to prepare young white men for the clergy primarily. Over time, we have seen higher education become more diverse, but we still do see some stratification in the higher education system, which is connected to this historical legacy of exclusion.

We have to acknowledge all of these different facets of the post-secondary ecosystem that have to be redesigned and rebuilt to better serve today’s students, to better serve students of color. There are many statewide financial aid policies, for example, that are only geared toward recent high school graduates. And we know that there are many, many students who have to take a break after high school who maybe are parents themselves, or who have to work full time. And so, therefore, they weren’t able to enroll completely after high school. Students of color are disproportionately represented in those groups. And so, one of the indirect consequences of these policies is that they have excluded Black students and African American students, Latino students, and Native American students. So we think that financial aid policies need to be revised for older students and many students who lead more complex lives. It’s really important to acknowledge that no one person is one single thing.

So yes, I am an African American, but I am also a woman. I’m also a parent. We have to really think about the intersectionality of all aspects of a learner’s identity. The system of post-secondary education has to be redesigned to take into account the very complex and fluent lives that students live. We don’t want a society of haves and have nots based upon who’s had the opportunity to pursue and complete a post-secondary credential and who has not.

My mom was able to get a better job. She was earning a better income. We were able to move to a different neighborhood, but I think the most consequential outcome is that I’ve never for a moment in my life thought that that would not be my reality. I’ve always known that I was going to have the opportunity to pursue my dreams and that many of those dreams would begin with my going on to college. It’s important that those of us who have had these opportunities work to make them available for everyone.

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