36,000 young adults are being left behind in higher education

  • by Nick Resnick
  • Wednesday September 21, 2016
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When it comes to higher education in America, the old wives' tale is that we do a good job of getting our students into college, but have a hard time retaining a number of them once they are enrolled. In Alameda County, our most recent census data indicates that there are 36,000 young adults between the ages of 18-25 that have reported high school graduation but no higher education. As a previous Oakland middle and high school teacher and current educator who works with school districts across the state, I know this American story does not currently play out for all our children, especially our students of color. This stark reality that has plagued our families of color in Oakland for far too long, is prohibiting all our students from reaching their true potential and having a life of choice and opportunity.

As a teacher and community member, I have worked with and mentored over 20 students who currently attend schools in the Peralta Community College District. These students and families have informed me that without the efforts of teachers going above and beyond to support their children, they would not have made it to higher education. Attending higher education cannot and should not be left to chance. Our incredibly capable students deserve a system that establishes an expectation, and clear pipeline, for every single student who enters Alameda County to have access to and knowledge about our higher education opportunities.

Our community has responded to this stark reality with a new initiative, the Oakland Promise, which was launched last year. The Oakland Promise recognizes that in order to make a life-sustaining wage and have a shot at true prosperity, higher education for our young people cannot be left to chance. With an associate's degree or vocational certificate, a person is expected to make $500,000 to $1,000,000 in additional earnings throughout their lifetime in comparison with only a high school diploma. This earning potential could be a game changer for our city �" affording those who grow up here to contribute back to our local economy. In other urban cities throughout California, the move toward codifying and formalizing the relationship between K-12 institutions and our local higher education space has proved to drastically impact the percentage of students who move on to higher education and therefore, are provided access to a life of choice and opportunity.

Through unprecedented collaboration between the mayor's office, Alameda County Office of Education, Peralta College District, Oakland Unified School District, East Bay Education Fund, and other community organizations, we have an opportunity to establish a systematic bridge from our K-12 system to local higher education opportunities. The Oakland Promise states: "We as a community will ensure every child in Oakland graduates high school with the expectations, resources, and skills to complete college and be successful in the career of his or her choice."

We must hold ourselves responsible, as a community, for operationalizing this vision. In some urban cities throughout the country, the "Promise" initiative has come and gone without leaving a clear mark on the system. In places like Long Beach, California, however, it has led to unparalleled results. As part of their Long Beach Promise, high school graduates are guaranteed a tuition-free year at their local community college. Additionally, if students meet minimum requirements while in the community college system, they are matriculated into the state college system. This clear move to reduce barriers and provide students and families different access points is a solution to help dismantle years of institutionalized racism. As a middle school teacher in Oakland, I developed mathematics programs that lead to unprecedented results, those that tripled the state averages for our most at-risk students. Breaking this vicious cycle of oppression for our students and families of color is possible through deliberate efforts to do something differently.

Some of the most successful approaches to transformative change are not unique. They learn, borrow, and build upon other successful endeavors. I urge our community to consistently collaborate with and convene a diverse set of leaders, from cities like Long Beach, to learn and grow with and alongside them. Because our current efforts leave so many children behind, our learning curve must be quick�" our young adults don't have time to wait for us to figure this out. Their lives depend on it.

Nick Resnick is a candidate for the Peralta Community College Board of Trustees in November. As a member of the LGBT community, he feels a strong commitment to lift up all voices and ensure equitable outcomes for all students. With his significant experience in Oakland, and across California, working in Title I K-12 school districts, he hopes to support the board's effort in building systematic partnerships between the K-12 system and the Peralta Community College District. He also has prioritized issues around outreach, recruitment, and retention, which would considerably increase the enrollment at Peralta.