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Facing the college challenges: Getting in and paying for it

By D.G. Martin Posted May 24, 2012 at 10:45 am

By pricing college out of reach to many American families and loading up students with burdensome debt, is our country breaking the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights?

Article 26 of that Declaration provides in part “…higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.”

Does the United States measure up?

Probably not.

The high cost and unmanageable debt have made “equally accessible” higher education to all only a memory of better times.

But Robyn Hadley, author of “Within View, Within Reach: Navigating the College-Bound Journey,”  does all she can to help families find higher education opportunities that are accessible and appropriate for their prospective college students.

Hadley’s own experience gives her a lot of credibility. As a first-generation college student, she came to Carolina in 1981 as a Morehead Scholar. Then she made history as the first African American woman from the South to win a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford University in Great Britain.

Her book also comes out of her experience in counseling students in the Alamance-Burlington school system. She is executive director of the system’s “What’s After High School?” program.

In connection with her recent selection by the White House as a Champion of Change, she wrote that, when she began the ‘What’s After High School?’ program in 2005, “this quote in the office at Eastern Alamance High School caught my attention and I wrote it down: ‘Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do, when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not. This is the first lesson to be learned. –Thomas Huxley’

“Later I thought to myself, ‘that’s really what college access is…teaching young people about the world and opportunities beyond where they live, showing them how a college education can help them realize those opportunities and equipping them with the tools and resources to do what they ‘have to do, when it ought to be done, whether (they) like it or not.’”

Hadley urges families to begin the college admission process long before students’ senior years in high school. Not only should the college preparation and selection process begin early, it should be a family team effort. Parents should learn about the kinds of high school courses college admissions officials want to see on the records of their applicants. Then the parents need to stay in touch with their child’s teachers and counselors to be sure everyone’s expectations are understood.

Getting the prospective student prepared is just one of the challenges. Another is finding the colleges that would be right for the student. Hadley writes, “So often we think of the college-bound journey in terms of colleges sizing up the student, but the college-going process is equally about students and families sizing up colleges and universities as well.”  Family discussions about college and visits to college campuses ought to come well before the senior year.

Hadley deals with the cost-of-college challenge that has put the opportunity out of reach for many prospective college students. She writes, “There may be voices in your own home that say, ‘There’s no way we can afford this’ or those who think your child is reaching too high.”

Hadley shouts down such voices, but she admits that money is a big problem: “The cost of a college education is often the biggest obstacle that most families fear… we discuss what to expect financially, revealing hidden costs and even setting budgets that will help your child get to college and stay there to complete his degree.”

Hadley’s book addresses “how to obtain the needed resources, including scholarships and financial aid, to make your child’s educational dreams a reality.”

With her help, at least some students are finding the higher education opportunities the Declaration of Human Rights seeks to insure.

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