After my third child Marshall joined his two brothers in the world, I spent my rare quiet moments reflecting on history-my own, my community’s, and our nation’s. I grew up in the culturally rich Rio Grande Valley of South Texas. I was born to the hardest-working self-made woman you’ll ever meet and a father who was a proud first-generation college graduate. Having left school in Mexico after the eighth grade, my mother knew that education was the key to her children’s future. Unfortunately, many of my peers didn’t draw the hand I drew, and didn’t have the same opportunity I had to go to college. That’s unfair to them, their families, my community, and our country.
In a country that many in the world look to as the land of opportunity, and at a time when a college education is more vital than ever, the inequality of our education system is glaring. Latino young adults attain college degrees at less than half the rate of their white peers. Only one in three black men who make it to college complete a degree within six years. The average graduation rate for Native Americans is lower than the rate for all other racial and ethnic groups in America. More than 16 million children are growing up in poverty, and only one in ten of them will earn a college degree.
Yet this doesn’t have to be our future. We have hundreds of proof points of schools teaching students who are mostly from low socioeconomic backgrounds and kids of color competing with their more affluent peers at an absolute scale. In my home state of Texas alone, thousands of low-income Latino and African American students are going to and through college because of outstanding public schools like IDEA College Preparatory, where my husband was principal for five years. Today, as the first generation of graduates return to their communities to pay it forward, the pace of change continues to accelerate.
With strong leadership and a commitment to doing whatever it takes for students to achieve, we must live up to our nation’s promise and ensure that every child has the opportunity to earn a college degree. Education is essential to solving so many other problems in our nation, and this has never been more true as we grapple with a sustained economic downturn and increasing globalization. If we join together to put education first and commit to expanding the path to college for every child in America, we’ll write the next chapter in our nation’s history as a story of equality, justice, and prosperity.