With the presidential election looming, a growing portion of our collective discussion is turning to values. Family values, American values, religious values – however one might classify them, the notion of which principles we choose to espouse and live our lives by has become part of the ongoing national discourse.
But there is a value – education – that is often left out of discussions of morals, of ethics, of personal and professional integrity. The reason for this omission, I think, is that education is often considered as simply a process or a means to an end, and isn't numbered among the virtues I just mentioned.
But I submit to you today that education is itself a value to be cherished alongside honesty, fidelity, fair play, and any of the other notions we seek to implant in our children's consciousness. Just as importantly, like these other values, education is something that must be passed from generation to generation.
A colleague recently remarked to me that there was never any doubt in his mind that he would go on to college after he finished high school. Both his parents held graduate degrees, and going to college was something he had anticipated as a natural stage in his life from the time he was old enough to conceive of such a thing. In other words, in this man's family, education was an inherited value.
Now, it's important to mention that this man came from a white, middle-class background, as did the generation before him and the generation before that. With this history, it was far more likely that his parents would emphasize education as a value than not – and, in fact, it's fair to say that his family's economic history existed because they cherished education as a value.
Needless to say, it is far less likely for young people from historically underrepresented communities to have the same conception of higher education as an inevitable thing. When one's parents never went to college, or in some cases never graduated from high school, it can be difficult to see oneself pursuing higher education. This is why it is so important to help young people remove the psychological barriers that can prevent them from going to college, and help them to see higher education as inevitable.
The most persistent of these mental barriers is the belief that college is simply too expensive. As president of a community college campus, I can tell you right now that there is ample financial aid available to those willing to ask for it, particularly for people from historically disadvantaged backgrounds. And because the demands of real life don't go away when you're going to school, it is always possible to study at your own pace – even on the weekends – especially at community college.
I am happy to say that there are more people from underrepresented communities with college degrees than ever before in this country, but there are still too many young people who see higher education as an impossible dream. Things do not need to be this way, however. All it takes to change your destiny is the right decision at the right time. That time could be today – registration is open now for the Fall Term.
You can make education an inherited value in your family, even if it hasn't always been there before. It can be a struggle, but the rewards in the long term far outweigh the costs in the short term. The decision of one person to earn a college degree can, like it did in my colleague's family, set the stage for future generations to do the same thing. That same decision can have a positive impact on the future of your children, your grandchildren, your great-grandchildren. Like my colleague, they can grow up asking themselves not whether they will go to college, but where.
Dr. Algie C. Gatewood is president of Portland Community College's Cascade Campus.