The American Dream: 'Education is the Key'
About the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's "Dear 45" campaign - The country's next president must be ready to lead on Day One, so we're reaching out to "45" to share our policy vision. We want to highlight the issues that are most important to the employers, executives and entrepreneurs that create opportunities across the nation.
As you enter your first days as 45th president of the United States, I hope you will have time for a few moments to pause and reflect on the diverse range of people you met along the campaign trail — and on the millions of hard-working Americans pursuing their own version of the American Dream.
The fathers and mothers who have returned to college to build a better life for themselves and their families. The immigrants who say, “Education is the key,” in languages that span the globe. The young students whose dreams are inspired by the doctors, teachers, and inventors they respect.
America’s unique strength lies in our diversity, because the right to equal opportunity and prosperity for all is woven into our nation’s fabric. But in an ever-changing world, how do we continue to live, breathe, and realize these ideals?
We know that the great equalizer in America is education, because it provides the surest path to opportunity and social mobility.
Unfortunately, a child’s odds of receiving a great education too often come down to the income of the parents or the color of his or her skin. While the graduation rate for all students is at an all-time high, at 82%, only 40% of those students are ready for college. Only 12% of black students, 25% of Hispanic students, and 20% of low-income white students who graduate from high school are prepared for college classes (ACT 2015 data).
Today, there are 50.2 million students enrolled in public schools in the United States. For the first time, students of color make up the majority of students in K-12 classrooms, and half come from low-income families. These young people already have a steep hill to climb to overcome poverty and inequity.
That’s not the American Dream our Founding Fathers had in mind, and these students deserve an education that will propel them to high school graduation — and success beyond.
That education should include access to great teachers, high expectations and challenging coursework, and models of personalized learning that allow a more tailored approach to meeting students’ individual learning needs.
These tools help prepare more students to proudly walk down the aisle at graduation, celebrating with their friends as they toss their caps into the air. But more than ever before, an education doesn’t end with high school, and a postsecondary degree or credential is increasingly a requisite for career opportunities and individual success in life.
Yet while enrollment in postsecondary education has increased dramatically, nearly 50 percent of all students who start a postsecondary program won’t earn a credential within six years. The rate drops to 42% for Hispanic students, and only 31% of black students will complete a degree in six years (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education statistics). To meet the needs of today’s students — many of whom work full-time, are raising kids, or are returning to school at an older age — college must be more affordable, personalized, and flexible.
My parents grew up poor, put themselves through school, and for most of my childhood they both worked two jobs to ensure my siblings and I had options that were not available to them. They were very clear that just as it was for them, education would be a critical bridge to opportunity for my brothers and me. The challenge facing our country today is the same: to give children — no matter the circumstances they were born into — a great education. We look forward to continuing to work with government, non-profits, and the private sector to make this happen.
President, U.S. Program
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
This letter was originally published on The U.S. Chamber of Commerce's 'Above the Fold'
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Allan C. Golston, president of the United States Program, leads the foundation’s efforts to ensure that all students receive a high-quality education for success in college and their career.