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Access to education is not a discretionary matter

March 7, 2007
By Renee Middleton

While volunteering for an after-school enrichment program in Meigs County, I was encouraging a fourth grade girl to attend college. She certainly seemed open to the idea, wide-eyed with possibility, and then what I imagined to be her father's voice came out of her little mouth. 

"How much does it cost?" the girl asked.

Her question is quite significant, not because of what she asked but why she asked it. While other fourth graders are practicing mathematics in classrooms, children in our region attempt to solve real-world equations: How can I afford to go to college?

But education should not be a privilege extended only to the rich. Access to education is not a discretionary matter.

I told the young girl the same thing I tell my prospective freshmen: Hardships may plague you down the road, but an investment in your education pays; never allow the cost to deter you. We find funds for cars, homes, big-screen TVs and other items that depreciate. They can repossess that car, they can foreclose on your home, turn off your lights and water, but no matter what, they can never take away your mind, your knowledge and your capacity for critical thought. Once the degree is earned, they can never come and repossess your diploma. Education never fails to appreciate and if you've been raised to give back, everyone in your family will benefit from your education. 

Public colleges of education serve many important purposes, but perhaps none as important as increasing access to education, PreK?20. As stewards of public education, we have a responsibility to ensure that all segments of our citizenry have, in Abraham Lincoln's words, "the right to rise up." We are called to educate students from the foothills of Appalachia to Ohio's urban centers and all points in between.

The Ohio University College of Education is taking that responsibility seriously. As state dollars to support public education dwindle, colleges must find creative ways to become more accessible to Ohio's families. We are working to make sure our region's children no longer see a college education as an unattainable goal. More than merely a viable option, education is the key to a successful future, well within the grasp of all who aspire to achieve. 

For all those who have the will, Ohio University can lead the way. Ohio University just celebrated National TRIO Day -- an opportunity to raise awareness of three federally-funded programs increasing access to education. 

Since 1964, TRIO programs across America have helped more than 10.5 million students further their education goals and improve their quality of life. TRIO programs aim to serve first-generation, low-income, disabled and other underrepresented students. The programs provide services that are not otherwise available to those students.

Our Upward Bound program actively seeks students from more than a dozen high schools in Southeast Ohio, giving them opportunities to enhance their academic skills to help them prepare for and gain admission to college.

The College Adjustment Program promotes college completion and success by offering services such as free tutoring, academic advising, counseling, computer help and peer mentoring.

The McNair Scholars Program encourages high-achieving undergraduates to go on to graduate school, earn their doctorates and become professors. The ivory tower era of tweed jackets, elbow patches and British accents is over. Ohio University is committed to recruiting and retaining faculty who represent the region, who share our life experiences and are dedicated to helping our young people dream dreams and attain them!

These three programs have served more than 5,000 Ohio University students. In turn, those students have continued to serve the region. TRIO students understand the investment that has been made in them, by others and by themselves. They have taken to heart the centuries-old wisdom of St. Luke: To whom much is given, much is expected.

A teacher in Springfield, Ohio, Jim Schurrer designed and successfully piloted a course called "Race, Media and Identity." Jim is a 2005 Ohio University graduate who earned his bachelor's degree in education with the support of the McNair Scholars Program. Jim understands that the investment doesn't end with him; he clearly sees his obligation to pay it forward. And he sees as much potential in his own students as his mentors saw in him. He says, "I feel that this generation may be the one to make a huge change."

Armed with a bachelor's degree in Early Childhood Education, Heather Parks has been prepared for the challenges the first year of teaching presents. She returned to Chillicothe, her home, to teach in Ross County. Upward Bound taught Heather the importance of giving back to her community while kindling her passion for learning. She's passing both along to her own students; "I want to be able to help them mature and grow into responsible adults," Heather says.

Without the TRIO programs, Jim and Heather may never have had the chance to inspire Ohio's next generation of great minds. TRIO helped them solve the equation, "How can I afford the cost of higher education?" And now, they are encouraging other young minds to do the same. 

Teaching is a spiritual calling, but it is also a journey that no one should travel alone. Thanks to Ohio University's TRIO Programs, no one has to.

Renee Middleton is the dean of the Ohio University College of Education.


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Published: Jul 20, 2006 3:50:00 PM
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