A word from the Director: The pursuit of happiness

Independence Hall Assembly Room, Philadelphia
Independence Hall Assembly Room, Philadelphia -

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This month's issue of Talent Dividend Network is focused on college success, and includes interviews and features with key players in the areas of college access AND success (as the two go hand in hand).
As most of you know by now, the 2013 Talent Dividend meeting will be held in Philadelphia, PA April 8-9. I was recently in Philadelphia for the first planning committee meeting and had the opportunity to tour Independence Hall -- a building with rich history. During the blistering summer of 1776, 56 courageous men gathered at the Pennsylvania State House and defied the King of England. Eleven years later, representatives from 12 states gathered to shape the U.S. Constitution, finally creating one unified nation. They risked everything -- "their lives, their fortune and their sacred honor."
It is fitting that we convene the third meeting of the Talent Dividend in such a historic location, as we continue to grapple with issues of equity in our nation's educational system. The Kresge and Lumina Foundations have long had equity at the heart of their missions, and organizations like Excelencia and the Institute for Higher Education Policy (featured in this month's issue) continue to champion educational attainment for all.
Half a century after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling, we are still faced with drastic differences in the numbers of students of color who are graduating college, and as Jim Applegate of Lumina Foundation has posed during a number of conference presentations, we need to ask ourselves why we are so comfortable with the numbers of students of color who are not going to school -- let alone graduating. We need to have "courageous" conversations about why, in the U.S., Hispanics are the fastest growing demographic yet have the lowest college attainment and college attendance rates. 
We need to ask ourselves the same questions about low-income and first generation students as well. Why is it that four out of every five students from higher socioeconomic families graduate, but low-income and first generation students are far less likely to even begin college?
We must begin to tap into the talent we know is present in every community in our nation. We must design programs and policies that create clear pathways for the student of today -- not yesterday -- to thrive and complete a college education.
It is essential that we:
  • Advocate for a change in the distribution of state grants based on need
  • Have more nuanced thinking about who receives grant aid 
  • Pull together and share promising practices that work
  • Collaborate for collective impact
  • Scale effective practice when feasible
  • Engage in public, building around the importance of equity
  • Drill down data, disaggregate by gender, race, ethnicity, etc. so we can have the right conversations
  • Focus post-secondary institutions on student completion: The work doesn't end once you get them to school. We need to get them through!
College completion is not only about the individual's future. It is about the future of our society. College is necessary for a prosperous economy, thriving community, and strong nation. Like our founding fathers, we need to summon our courage, take risks, and make a commitment to our nation's citizens.
We too have the opportunity to lay down a new path and to set a new tone for the twenty-first century student of today.

Noël Harmon is National Director of the Talent Dividend at CEOs for Cities.

Photo of Independence Hall by Rdsmith4 [CC-BY-SA-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons
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