It’s gratifying to know that we at College Parents of America are not alone in our desire to improve college access and success.

In fact, because so many organizations are devoted to this meeting this challenge, an even greater challenge might be to make sure that we are not tripping over each other.

The good news for College Parents of America is that we have a niche: we are the only national organization devoted to the interests of parents. Our three-pronged mission of advocacy, information resources and access to discounts on products and services is unique and frankly, very appealing to the long-time “players” in higher education.

I don’t think it is overstatement to say that parents, until last summer, were never part of the advocacy equation and, therefore, were never treated with the respect we deserve.

Thanks to your support, now we are a “player,” too. And due to our inherent appeal, we have an opportunity to play a key role as a catalyst for change. Let me explain.

Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in an event at the National Press Club called “A Shared Agenda,” hosted by The Pathways to College Network, an alliance of national organizations committed to research-based reform of education policies and practices so that a college education becomes a realistic expectation for all young people in our society.

The mantra of “Pathways” is this: “We want an education system that prepares all students for 21 st century careers and citizenship roles, not for yesterday’s jobs and marginal status in society.”

Who can disagree with that statement? Nobody. Who can help ensure that such an education system is built? We can. Why are current and future college parents uniquely suited to have extraordinary clout when it comes to bringing such reform about? The answer is: there are lots of us; we have high expectations of ourselves, our children and our political leaders; and we vote.

Speaker after speaker at this DC event, everybody from a professor at the University of Wisconsin to the executive director of the GE Foundation and many others in between, all emphasized the critical role that parents can and must play when it comes to spurring action by government officials, school superintendents and principals, and higher education leaders.

These speakers’ reasoning was simple, and right out of The College Parents of America playbook. Grass-roots leadership is essential, they emphasized, if communities and families are to truly believe that a college education is within the grasp of all students. Each speaker underscored that advancement in educational opportunity is more likely to occur if families and community leaders demand it of elementary and secondary schools, higher education institutions and government.

As you might imagine, all of this was music to my ears. And then, as I sat down to write this column, I reviewed some of the handouts that were made available at this Pathways to College event. One of them, in particular, caught my attention. It was titled Action Alert for Community Leader and Family Advocacy Groups .

Action step #4 reinforced for me that we are on the right track. Here’s what it said:
“Encourage and support family involvement:

  • Make parents and families aware of the important role they play in students successfully navigating pathways to college;
  • Develop families’ knowledge regarding college costs, financial aid, eligibility requirements, and application processes;
  • Inform families about college admission requirements, the courses students have to take in high school, admission tests, the process of applying for college, and where students can get help with college preparation and planning; and
  • Provide parents and families with guidance in actively supporting their children’s school achievement, college aspirations and success.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? We are taking this action step big time, and we have only just begun to march.

Thank you for marching with us, and please tell your peers to do the same. If we stay united, then education systems at all levels will support high achievement and the development of life-long learning skills for all students, regardless of their background. That will be good for our children, and good for America.

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