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Lawmakers Must Support Student Success

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More than 25 years ago, the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy set out to achieve a singular goal – to help every man, woman, and child secure a better life through literacy. As we congratulate graduates, we must consider the millions who don’t complete their degrees.

We have observed many barriers that confront the disadvantaged. Low literacy levels are linked to poor health, fewer economic opportunities, and a lifetime on welfare. Once these families are empowered, they become their own strongest advocates for success, continuing on a path towards education and employment.

At our Foundation, we are committed to that success. We need programs in the postsecondary setting that go beyond literacy and can support students through graduation.

Postsecondary education is a wildly different landscape from high school. Today’s college experience looks a lot like our adult literacy programs, in which students are juggling not only their studies, but also jobs and children. Forfeiting a college degree wipes away more than a million dollars in lifetime earnings. Education is the ultimate weapon to build our middle class.

How can we, as a nation, do a better job supporting today’s postsecondary students? We must remember that the majority of students today are working part-time during school. This is critical because it shows that so many students cannot afford to leave the workplace in the name of completing a traditional college path.

Kudos to corporate leaders such as JetBlue, Starbucks and CIGNA, which are making access to online education easier for their employees. And kudos to policy leaders like Gov. Rick Scott, who focused Florida’s college system to offer $10,000 bachelor’s degrees. Unfortunately, these opportunities are unique.

Today’s students are also more diverse than the previous generation. Many struggle with language issues that limit their ability to obtain education and careers commensurate with their skills. Our Foundation has been concerned about the lack of adequate literacy programming currently available to ensure English language learning opportunities. We’ve announced a $7 million Adult Literacy XPRIZE competition to develop phone apps to teach adults to read. This effort is focused on teaching the most basic literacy levels, but the need is evident for an expanse of English language programs.

There are a host of programs that policymakers can embrace to help make college a reality, such as allowing more flexibility within the federal financial aid program that rewards part-time enrollment without unnecessarily penalizing students who choose to complete their studies over a longer period. We can also target existing federal funds and grants to enhance learning in the postsecondary sector so that workplace skills and experiences translate to college course credits in the right environment.

We should start this conversation now, while candidates up and down the ballot begin making their case to voters. Lawmakers at every level of government should support today’s students. They are our next innovators, job creators and leaders.

This article originally appeared in the Tallahassee Democrat.

Get in Touch

You may also contact us by phone at 850.562.5300 or by mail at:
Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy
516 North Adams Street • Tallahassee, Florida 32301