Making College/University Affordable for the Poor
I was the first member of my family to get an education beyond high school–which, perhaps, explains why I kept getting degrees. I did fairly well in high school, but because of all the moves and drama in our family, didn’t achieve top grades–and my guidance counselors gave me lousy advice. I didn’t even know that one was supposed to take the SAT or ACT in one’s junior year and apply for universities, then. I thought one finished high school and then looked for colleges. I knew that scholarships existed, but had no idea how to find out who offered them, never mind apply for them. My parents (who later went to university themselves) had no idea how to advise me. I joined the army partly because I had no idea how else to pay for college. In my experience, many bright teens from poor or working class families are in similar situations. Even if they have top grades and better guidance counselors, they often fail to prepare to apply for top level colleges and universities because they assume that they are out of reach.
In the middle of my doctoral work, I met Emilio Castro, who was then the Secretary General of the World Council of Churches and had been exiled from his home country of Uruguay for years while it was controlled by a military dictatorship. Castro spoke to my class of doctoral students and reminded us that most people in the world never have a chance for even one year of university study. We were blessed and had a responsibility to work to be able to provide more education to more people. I took it to heart.
Education is the most proven path out of poverty. The gospel is on the side of the poor and churches need to be working more strenuously to provide high quality education opportunities to more of the poor. Some churches are working with after school programs and mentoring for “at risk” children and teens. This is good.
One thing churches can do is to provide more information to those who think their options are more limited then they are. For extremely bright, talented, and motivated students who are poor or working class, the options and opportunities are often much greater than they know–or than guidance counselors tell them about. For instance, Questbridge is a program that helps top-notch students whose families make under $60 thousand per year gain needs blind admission to elite U.S. colleges and universities. They can apply to up to 8 schools (ranked) with one application fee. Accepted students attend with full scholarships at one of the most oexclusive colleges or universities in the U.S. Other elite schools, such as Harvard University, which are not part of the Questbridge program, have also taken major steps to become far more affordable for working class students. Pastors and youth ministers can inform talented youth about such programs, encourage them to apply, even recommend them to such programs.
I would like to see the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities develop a similar program to Questbridge. Few, if any, of their member schools or affiliates have huge Ivy League endowments that can be used for as generous financial aid packages. But they can partner with churches and denominations (are often already in such partnerships) to fund major scholarships.
Churches must work harder to make quality education available to all who can benefit from it.