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Education is still key

9/19/2012, 8:47 a.m.
You can slam dunk, but I got to hit the books for my scholarship....
You can slam dunk, but I got to hit the books for my scholarship.

Education is still key

For countless generations there has been a strong belief among African Americans in the importance of education. Elders who had to struggle for survival against the nation’s pervasive racial discrimination would often say “education is one thing they can’t take away from you.”

Education was once viewed as preparation for opportunities that would be abundant one day when racism subsides. It was not at all unusual 60 or 70 years ago to find black graduates of elite colleges working as Pullman porters, postal clerks or railroad red caps. Nonetheless, faith in the value of education remained strong for decades.

Ironically, the ardor for education seems to have subsided among blacks even though opportunities have finally emerged. Years ago people would be in awe of anyone who had attained a Ph.D. from a major college. In fact, charlatans would often appropriate the title “doctor” to earn undeserved respect.

Now that bachelor’s degrees are more common, the question is repeatedly asked whether the cost of a college education is worth the investment. In 1940, only five percent of Americans 24 years of age and older had completed four or more years of college. Now that percentage has climbed to more than 30 percent. It can no longer be said that a college degree is so rare.

This creates a serious competitive disadvantage for blacks in the job market. Many employers require a bachelor’s degree as a job qualification. While a college education might not provide the skills needed for the job, a degree provides some information about the applicant. The job seeker will have graduated from high school, been admitted to a four-year college, and exercised the industry and discipline to graduate.

The problem is that the cost of higher education is now so expensive that only about six percent of high school graduates from low-income families go on to college compared with more than 51 percent of graduates with more affluent parents. A disproportionate number of blacks will fall into the lower income group.

Although racial discrimination is unlawful in this country, anyone paying attention to the current presidential campaign should be aware that its vestiges still exist. One way for an employer to limit the problem of achieving racial diversity in recruiting is to include the requirement of a college degree. Automatically, numerous minority applicants would be disqualified.

Bureau of Labor Statistics data indicate that the median income of those with a bachelor’s degree is at least 40 percent higher than the salary earned by those with only a high school diploma. The lure of more money motivates some high school graduates to seek a bachelor’s degree after they have struggled for some time with low-paying jobs.

The cost of higher education has become so substantial that prospective students must employ the same financial analysis that a businessman might use to evaluate the wisdom of any major investment. While it is possible to borrow money to finance education, there are many sad stories of students saddled with exorbitant debt but still lacking the skills to earn a higher salary.

Community colleges and the state’s public college system are good places to begin one’s research. Beware of for-profit colleges. Youth beguiled by the Internet are easy pickings for the computer-based education of many of those institutions. The graduation rates of these schools are dismal and dropouts still have to repay the loans.

High school students should embrace the wisdom of their elders. Hard work in high school is money in the bank. That is how to win scholarships and grants to finance higher education.