Don’t leave low-income students behind

As the economy changes, we can’t afford to lose low-income students in higher education.

By 2018, roughly two-thirds of all jobs in the United States will require some form of college education, according to a 2010 Georgetown University report. This statistic is one of the driving forces behind first lady Michelle Obama’s latest initiative, which is pushing more low-income students to enroll in college.

Recent research finds that high school graduates from low-income families enroll and finish college at far lower rates than those from higher-income families. Even more striking is the finding that low-income students with high grades and test scores rarely apply to the nation’s most elite colleges and universities.

Michelle Obama’s aides have said she is planning to visit schools around the country and use social media to talk about the opportunities that come with higher education, the New York Times reported Nov. 11. The Times also reported that she will work with the Department of Education to help with President Barack Obama’s goal to have the U.S. lead the world in percentage of college graduates by 2020.

Much like the first lady’s advocacy for healthy eating and push to reduce childhood obesity, simply increasing awareness of how important college is can be beneficial. But that will only go so far. Even concrete policy measures from the education department aren’t enough.

High school teachers and administrators, particularly those who work at schools located in poorer districts, should inform families about the importance of access to higher education.

While tuition costs remain high, financial aid and scholarships can make college more affordable, and in an increasingly globalized workforce, higher education is becoming a necessity.