Opportunity Doesn't Knock for All

My son, Nick, is a college freshman, and he is embracing this opportunity with gusto. He, like so many young adults, is thoughtful, open to ideas and cares deeply about making a difference in the world. The norm and expectation established early in his life was that college is the logical next step along the path to realize his hopes and dreams. As a family, we have supported him, sacrificed for him and encouraged him to reach this important stage.

Not all young adults, however, have the opportunity to access this path. In fact, they don't even know where the path begins. The playing field is far from even, and like so much of the injustice and disparity we see today, socioeconomic status is a compelling indicator.

A Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity report notes that 69 percent of students, and only about 50 percent of African American, Hispanic and low-income students, graduate from high school on time. Of those who enroll in college, only about half graduate within six years. For low-income students, the college completion rate is a dismal 25 percent.

According to a recent White House Report:

Each year hundreds of thousands of low-income students face barriers to college access and success. Low-income students often lack the guidance and support they need to prepare for college, apply to the best-fit schools, apply for financial aid, enroll and persist in their studies, and ultimately graduate. As a result, large gaps remain in educational achievement between students from low-income families and their high-income peers. Increasing college opportunity is not just an economic imperative, but a reflection of our values.

Basic guidance is woefully scarce for low-income students. They are dramatically underserved by high school guidance counselors, through no fault of their own. High schools serving predominately low-income and minority students have student to counselor ratios twice the national average -- 1,000 students per counselor versus 470 students per counselor.

There is hope in this scenario. Organizations like Minds Matter are bridging the gap for low-income students. This program focuses on accomplished high school students from low-income families in 12 cities across the country, helping them to transform their lives by broadening their dreams and preparing them for college success. On Saturdays during the school year, Minds Matter mentors work with students to open their minds to possibilities, and to challenge their assumptions about who they can become in this world. Practical test prep, support with the college selection and application process, and summer programming is included. The time commitment for mentors and students is significant, but it is working. With a stunning 100% success rate for acceptance into a four year college or university, more than 1,200 students to date call themselves Minds Matter graduates.

These metrics are game changing, but the true measure of success is the lives that are forever changed. Said a Minds Matter graduate, "I thought passing age 18 was an accomplishment because not many people in my community even get past that age. Minds Matter gave me hope. It showed me that there is a life outside of where I lived, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Minds Matter gave me the idea that college was an option."

Not every student's destination is college, but don't we owe it to our world to expand opportunities for high school students who want to bring their gifts to the world? Let's work together to inspire and empower students to dream bigger and reach higher, regardless of background, to make sure that our country is a place where if you work hard, you have a chance to get ahead.

Ellen Magnis is Executive Director at Minds Matter National based in New York. This piece was written in association with The OpEd Project.