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College Should Be an Option for All Students

Teach For America Washington's executive director believes every student deserves the opportunity to choose their post-secondary path. 

Photo of college students throwing graduation caps in front of a building

By Tony Byrd

October 3, 2019

I have recently heard many high-level leaders in Washington State claim that college is not for everyone. These same voices add that technical options are very great and can lead to a wonderful life. While I do not disagree with the value of a technical career path at all, I challenge any high level leader who makes these claims to share publicly that they would not send their own students to the best possible college first. People who understand the path to college and know how to navigate the system can make the choice about the right path for their future—it's true, college is not their only option. But for many, that's not a choice.

As it stands, when we say “college is not for everyone,” what we are really saying is “college is only for the privileged.” I could fill pages with the names of students who wanted to go to college, but came from families that did not have this kind of access and were locked out of many college choices before they even realized it. 

The data is clear: the more education you have, the more likely you are to make a living wage and move out of poverty. After 26 years in public education, I can also say with deep experience that the “system” is making the ability for marginalized students nearly impossible by blocking the pathways to make a choice about college in the first place. 

“We must expect all students to graduate from high school with the ability to make their own choice about college.”

Tony Byrd

Executive Director, Teach For America Washington

Los Angeles Corps Member 1993

The college pathway gate-keeping starts in elementary school when racially biased tests play a powerful role in defining who is “gifted” and who is not. It continues in middle school when students are encouraged by teachers to opt for the lower math track and learn later they needed to get through calculus to get into engineering programs. It is exacerbated in high school when well-meaning counselors with unmanageable caseloads do not push students to take the most rigorous courses their high school provides—one of the best predictors of college success.

We must expect all students to graduate from high school with the ability to make their own choice about college. This means, among other things, we need to: eliminate biased testing, ensure all pathways lead to a college option, and open the doors to all for rigorous coursework. Anything short of these types of changes, and many more, is perpetuating a power paradigm that will ensure tremendous racial wealth gaps last forever.