If I had to pick the main ideals the Puritans left us, I would have to say they are a belief in hard work and the value of education. In America, we pride ourselves on an unwavering work ethic and elevated education curriculum. However, there are still 45 million Americans living below the poverty line, without proper access to education.

To clear up any confusion, my definition of lack of access to education includes lack of educational resources such as qualified teachers and basic resources such as textbooks, as well as lacking the necessary qualifications to graduate.

The national graduation rate in the United States is 83.2 percent which is fairly comparable to other first world countries , with Canada at an 85 percent graduation rate and Sweden with an 82 percent graduation rate. However, the graduation rate for minority students in the United States is significantly lower, with 77.8 percent of Hispanic students and 74.6 percent students receiving high school diplomas.

While this difference in percent between minorities and non-minorities may seem minuscule, it represents thousands of minority students who are less well educated than their white counterparts. In fact, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) during a study conducted in 2016, the percentage of Hispanic students attending K-12 public schools in intense poverty have increased dramatically in recent years: more than doubling from 7,009 schools to 15,089 schools.

The facts speak for themselves: there is a need to aid underprivileged students, particularly minority students in order for them to receive the education they need and deserve to succeed.

The problem does not stem from lack of government funding for education for underprivileged students, but really how that money is being spent. In 2016, over $68 billion was spent on education by the federal government. $22 billion of that was used towards the Pell Grant program, which provides tuition assistance for underprivileged students.

While this program is well-meaning, it is not the most effective use of government funds. The graduation rate for recipients of the Pell Grant is 51 percent, while the graduation rate for non-Pell students is 65 percent, according to a report from “The Education Trust”, a civil rights education advocacy organization. The same organization also concluded that the cause for this low graduation rate was that specific colleges were not making enough of a concerted effort to help underprivileged students graduate.

This is evidence of one clear point: government funding for underprivileged students to attend college is not an effective way to close the education gap because it does not address the core problem, which is that many low-income students never make it to graduation in the first place. The government should be providing students with the resources they need in order to graduate from high school and be successful when they go to college, instead of providing a donation toward a college fund for students who made it to graduation.

The government should be focusing on programs that improve the quality of education and motivate students to aim for a bright future at the undergraduate level. According to a study done by the Department of Education, even incredibly high-achieving low-income students have just as low of a retention rate as low-achieving underprivileged students.

There are a variety of reasons for this trend. First, many high-achieving students go to community college or two-year programs to save money, even though these schools often do not provide the resources  they need to graduate. Many high-achieving  low-income students are unaware that many top universities would be willing to provide them a significant amount of financial aid or even give them a free ride if they applied. These schools would provide better resources to help them graduate and more money to support them financially than community colleges, where they would likely have to work while attempting to earn a college degree, making them more likely to drop out.

Therefore, the government should invest less in providing money toward a college fund for underprivileged students which a private institution could cover through financial aid, and more in ensuring that guidance counselors and school faculty are well-informed about financial aid and post-graduate options for their students.

This could be achieved by using “Teach For America” teachers, a program which brings recently graduated college students from prestigious universities into the classroom, to function more as guidance counselors who inform students of potential post-graduate plans. Since there is very little evidence that “Teach for America” teachers have an impact on students reading and writing scores, they would serve a much more useful function as motivators and guidance counselors.

Government programs could also focus funding on programs which prepare students for college so they have the educational knowledge  they need to do well there. “Upward Bound,”  for example, gives underprivileged students academic support and other opportunities.

By providing underprivileged students with well-informed guidance counselors and programs preparing them for college, a more academically motivated environment is created for all students, not just high-achieving students, allowing for higher graduation rates and greater success in the future.

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