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Making College Possible For Every Student

Phillip Garza (Houston ‘03) is changing expectations around the number of low-income students who complete college.

By The TFA Editorial Team

February 14, 2019

Overcoming Barriers to a College Diploma

Low-income students face multiple barriers—including tuition, fees, and bureaucracy—that make it increasingly difficult to persist in college. Phillip Garza (Houston ‘03) refuses to believe this should be the norm. As chief college and diversity officer at IDEA Public Schools, he’s changing the system so that all students have an opportunity to attend college and earn a diploma.

The first barrier I think is an ideological problem. The reason low-income, first-generation minority kids do not graduate from college is because, in the United States, college isn't for everyone. College is actually for the academically or fiscally elite.

The data says that for every student growing up in the highest income quartile, you have a 77 percent chance by the age of 24 you'll possess a college degree. If you're a low-income student, you're in the bottom economic quartile, there's only an 8 percent chance.

Then there are the barriers of tuition and fees, there are the barriers of bureaucracy, there are the barriers of this-is-how-we’ve-always-done-it. I do not believe that, and in IDEA Public Schools and at Teach For America we do not believe that. We seek to establish a system that actually sees the day where all of our students are graduating from college greater than 77 percent.