I grew up in a family where going to college was the norm; I am a third generation college graduate. My mother attended Colby Sawyer College for her undergraduate degree, and went on to earn a Master’s degree from the University of New Hampshire. Not to be outdone by anyone, she continued her education at Dartmouth and earned her second Master’s degree; did I mention that she earned two out of her three degrees after I was born? My dad started his freshman year at Franklin Pierce College when he was 40-years-old. By day he was a stay-at-home dad; by night, he worked toward earning his undergraduate degree. Most of my peer’s parents would tell stories about their college years, how important they were to them, and why they also needed to go to college. I, on the other hand, saw my parent’s college careers, especially my dad’s, unfold before my eyes.
I was very young when my mom finished her Master’s, but my dad began his college career when I was eight years old. He left his job, went back to school, and graduated with a degree in Human Services. I was eleven when my dad graduated. I was even there for the ceremony, and I can still picture him walking across the stage with his diploma in hand (I also remember the killer sunburn I got from sitting in the sun all day!) Since graduation 12 years ago, my dad has been a middle school teacher working with at-risk youth in inner-city Boston. Both of my parents worked hard and sacrificed for the sake of their own schooling, and they did the same for me. They also made it possible for me to take the traditional route to college, knowing how challenging it was to balance family, jobs, and education. I knew at a very young age that college was not only an expectation, but a requirement; and honestly, what excuse did I have not to go to college? I was 18 when I entered college, and had no responsibilities other than to get good grades and graduate on time.
When I read reports and look at the statistics on the benefits of a college degree, it’s clear that my parents were steering me in the right direction. The statistics speak for themselves: according to a report in the Business Journal, college graduates earn an average of 85% more than adults who did not complete high school! Specifically, the report states that Vermont adults who have attained a college degree earn approximately $40,381, and high school graduates earn around $27,628—that’s a 46.16% difference. In addition, a study shows that unemployment rates are historically lower in people who have a college degree versus those who do not.
Since I arrived at Vermont Campus Compact (VCC), I’ve come to better understand why we are committed to the issue of college access. If college access is a concern in Vermont, and higher education campuses have the power and resources to do something about it, then we have a valuable role to play in making that connection. It aligns with our mission and our newly adopted tagline: “Engaging Campuses to Strengthen Communities.” Our AmeriCorps VISTAs serve on college campuses around the state; they wear many hats, but one of the most important things they do is facilitate the training and placement of college volunteers who work as mentors and tutors. These college students serve as role models for younger students, and can provide strong inspiration for young people to start believing in their own potential.
For all of these reasons, I am personally very excited to meet Dr. Paul Hernandez. Dr. Hernandez, former professor of Sociology at Central Michigan University and now a leader at The Michigan United Way, fell into the “have-nots” category of social capitol: he was raised in poverty by single mother in Los Angeles, in a neighborhood where gang activity was prevalent. Despite the challenges of his upbringing and gang-affiliation, Paul was able to go to college, and eventually get his doctorate. Driven by his own experiences, Dr. Hernandez created College Positive Volunteerism, a method that mentors can use to increase college aspirations in at-risk students in grades K-12.
Vermont Campus Compact, in conjunction with Mobius, Vermont’s Mentoring Partnership, are co-hosting a forum on College Positive Volunteerism. The evening will be geared toward the mentors, tutors, and educators who understand their impact on the college aspirations of K-12 youth in Vermont. Dr. Hernandez will be sharing his incredible story of overcoming the odds, and becoming a successful college student. Participants will then be given an opportunity to work in small groups to discuss College Positive Volunteerism methods, activities, and outcomes.
 The Business Journal. 2013. Earnings widen between college and high school-only grads. [online] Available at: http://www.bizjournals.com/bizjournals/on-numbers/scott-thomas/2012/12/grads-earn-85-more-than-those-without.html?page=all [Accessed: 18 Sep 2013].
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  The Business Insider. 2013. The Massive Difference In Unemployment Between Those Who Do And Don't Have A College Degree Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/college-vs-no-college-unemployment-rates-2013-6#ixzz2fGzAY7uM. [online] Available at: The Massive Difference In Unemployment Between Those Who Do And Don't Have A College Degree Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/college-vs-no-college-unemployment-rates-2013-6#ixzz2fGzAY7uM [Accessed: 18 Sep 2013