Cortney Kilbury Cleveland Scholarship Programs Inc. Cleveland, Ohio

With that in mind, let me tell you about Belinda and her daughter Ronda. Ronda is a smart girl. Now 11, she qualified for a local scholarship program. Her mother Belinda got an adult learner scholarship through the same program to study at a community college and eventually at a local university where she will end up with a bachelor’s degree.

Belinda and Ronda probably would have had a hard time getting any kind of education past high school without the access program that is helping them along. There are a number of these programs now in place throughout the country. I work with one, Cleveland Scholarship Programs Inc., that has been replicated in Baltimore, Boston, Columbus, Miami, Santa Barbara, and Washington, D.C. These programs are all making a difference.

The likelihood that a given student will enroll in college is the product of a complex set of factors, including family educational history, academic preparedness, peer support, and the student’s own goals and aspirations. But one of the most important factors is affordability. Tuition rates have outpaced inflation and median family income growth over the past two decades — and show no signs of slowing.

Grants, scholarships, and loans offset these costs, but they are having a weaker impact on tuition than they once did. Pell grants, a needs-based program for people with low incomes, now only cover about one-third of the cost of college; in the 1970s, they covered nearly three-quarters. Not surprisingly, student-loan borrowing has also risen almost tenfold since 1977. If these trends continue, it’s likely that several million middle and low-income students will be shut out of four-year institutions or out of college altogether over the next decade.

Despite the cost of going to college, the individual incentives for obtaining a degree are overwhelming. Factoring in inflation, incomes for those without college degrees barely inched upward from 1949-1994. But those with degrees can expect to earn $23,000/year more than those without them.

The benefits of having college-educated residents are far more than economic, however; individuals with college degrees are more likely to vote, report better overall health, and actively contribute to their communities. In serving low-income, minority, and first-generation students, CSP and organizations like it are at the forefront of a movement to create a civic culture that values education, and the trickle-down effect will be a higher standard of living for everyone.

Cleveland Scholarship Programs Inc. provides educational opportunity and supports workforce development for Greater Cleveland through a broad range of financial-aid and advisory programs.