By cutting today's dropout rate in half, we would generate a $45 billion increase in tax revenues. What would happen if we converted high school dropouts to college graduates? We would develop a generation that contributes to rather than drains the American economy. These new leaders would also help us create 21st-century industries critical to sustaining a safe, healthy, and comfortable standard of living.
We can achieve these goals as a nation. I know this, because my organization - College For Every Student (CFES) - has been achieving them for more than a decade. We do it by instilling hope, raising aspirations and then performance- a progression that moves underserved children toward college success. Key strategies include linking schools at all grade levels to college partners.
Two hundred colleges and universities have joined us in this endeavor, forming relationships with K-12 schools that create a climate of expectation among the students that they will go to college, even though more than 90 percent are the first in their families to do so.
One striking aspect of these programs is that the students themselves take ownership. Older students mentor younger ones, or seek out peers who are struggling and find a way to provide guidance. One Harlem high school increased its college-going rate by 50 percent in three years when classmates supported one another in the arduous tasks of completing college applications and financial aid forms. In other schools, our students tutor their peers, read to younger children, and launch clean-up drives that restore their playgrounds, parks, and communities. By serving, they learn to lead.
We have seen this happen in Brooklyn; Roxbury, Massachusetts; Caldwell, Idaho; Kaneohe, Hawaii; and hundreds of other communities. If adults set high standards for young people, they rise to meet and exceed them. Sadly, in the United States we have allowed low expectations of our youth - especially those in impoverished communities - to become the norm.