By Amber McDonough, LINC member
Eat. Sleep. Work. Repeat.
That has been my life since I graduated college six years ago and although it seems like a productive existence, I am not entirely happy about it. What happened to the ‘me’ that aimed to "make the world a better place?" In college I had a purpose. My goals were in sight and my free time was spent volunteering. Has being a so-called "grown up" changed that part of me? Sure, I can write a check, but what about giving time and energy to a worthy cause?
Insert LINC. United Way LINC (Lead. Impact. Network. Change.) is a group designed to deliver unique events for young professionals to join forces and promote social change in their communities while having fun doing it. After attending my first LINC event, a side of me that had been missing was awakened. Following the event, I emailed the organizers and thanked them for planning it and allowing me to be a part of it. One month later I was on the committee planning our upcoming event, Hoodies ‘N Hops, a sweatshirt collection event. Admission into the event is a new or gently used hoodie from your alma mater, which will be donated to high school students in the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Cincinnati.
The purpose of this event is to inspire high school students to set their sights on higher education – an important cause that aligns with LINC’s mission and is in great need, not only in our own community, but in the nation, as well.
The United States has slipped behind many other countries in college completion, ranking 19th out of 28, with fewer young Americans getting more education than their parents1. As a millennial, this is an alarming statistic to me. However, before we can make efforts to close the gaps, we must first identify the causes of the declines. Part of the decline can be attributed to a number of challenges facing today’s students including their ethnic and racial minority backgrounds, lack of financial support from parents, and increased likelihood of having multiple obligations outside of college2. This is especially true for low-income and first generation students – only 11 percent earn bachelor’s degrees after six years compared to 55 percent of their more advantaged peers.
I came across a startling quote from Harvard University President Lawrence Summens that reinforces this message:
“The least bright rich kids are as likely to go to college, and more likely to go to a good college, than the brightest poor kids” (2004)
And while half of all people from high-income families have a bachelor’s degree by age 25, just 1 in 10 people from low-income families have attained a degree.2 Although access to college has significantly improved in the last 30 years for low-income, first-generation students, these students continue to face significant barriers accessing college.
Rather than sitting back and watching the decline unfold, I want to do my part in ensuring a better life for future generations. We must continue to focus our efforts on improving postsecondary access and success for our youth.
Reaching out to and inspiring every student, regardless of their background is of great importance. We each have a responsibility to make sure that our community, and country, remains a place where if you work hard, you have a chance to get ahead, regardless of your socioeconomic status. Even though the saying goes, “If you believe it, you can achieve it,” believers still need to be empowered to achieve success and non-believers need to be encouraged that such academic goals are attainable, even if they come from underprivileged families.
So what can we do as young professionals to support the movement? Of course we can donate money; however, perhaps the more fulfilling and rewarding solution would be to donate time. There are numerous organizations within the city supporting education among our youth that welcome and encourage volunteers. You can also make an impact outside of local organizations by simply talking to a young family member, neighbor, or friend and inspiring them to attend college.
So, if you’re like me and tired of the “Eat. Sleep. Work. Repeat.” routine, consider adding a little bit more ‘giving’ into your life. You can start by bringing a college sweatshirt and joining me at Hoodies ‘N Hops, on August 11, at Urban Artifact in Northside.
1 OECD: The US Has Fallen Behind Other Countries in College Completion, Business Insider (original article on Reuters), 2014
2 Martha J. Bailey and Susan M. Dynarski, “Inequality in Postsecondary Attainment”, 2011.