How Schools Can Cash in on Social Capital

A brainstorm illustration with the word "social capital" in the middle.

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As a society, we talk a lot about how important our children’s futures are, but we still seem to struggle when it comes to making sure that all kids have access to a good education.

One of the biggest problems that the education system faces right now is inequality. Poorer communities don’t have access to the same resources that wealthier communities do.  As a result, children from low-income families end up with a lower quality education.

Fixing this problem has proven to be a lot more difficult than it seems. But according to a new study, there is at least one resource that even the poorest schools should be able to tap into: social capital.

Jeff Grabmeier, senior director of research and innovation communications at Ohio State University, defines social capital as, “The network of relationships between school officials, teachers, parents, and the community that builds trust and norms that promote academic achievement.” In other words, it’s who you know. And while wealthier schools tend to have a lot more social capital, Grabmeier points out that this isn’t always the case.

“That’s not to say there’s no relationship between community wealth and social capital,” Grabmeier writes. “However, the majority of the difference in levels of social capital between schools could not be explained by their socioeconomic status, the study found.”

The authors of the study argue that the key to obtaining more social capital is to get schools to reach out to the community, to interact with parents and others, and to get them actively involved in supporting the school and its students. Open houses, conferences, and other ways to reach out and build connections are key, and those are generally the kinds of things that school administrators need to take the lead on.

It’s like the old saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.”

Tennessee to Offer Free Community College in 2018

Young, happy college grads throwing their caps in the air.

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Bill Haslam, the governor of Tennessee, has a campaign to enrich his state. He wants 55% or more of Tennesseans to have a college degree or other certificate of secondary education by 2025.

“In Tennessee, we’ve determined that the best jobs plan is an education plan,” Haslam stated. Currently, the percentage of degree-holders hovers around 34%. Tennessee is 42nd in the nation for adults with secondary education, and 40th for the trappings of an “innovative and globalized” economy.

On May 9, 2017, Tennessee lawmakers led by State Representative David Hawk approved a measure to provide free community college to all residents without a degree. It’s a massive leap forward to those goals. The bill includes recent high school graduates, adults who have never attended college, and adults who have been out of school for several years. They would be eligible for up to five years of tuition grants, eligible at any of the state-run community colleges, so long as they maintain a 2.0 GPA.

Tennessee is the first state to make this a state-wide campaign. Earlier this year, San Francisco announced a similar movement for all residents of the city, though that was simply open, not grant-based.

The new program will go into effect in 2018. Until then, students still have access to the existing incentives: the Community College Reconnect Grant, which helps low-income students complete their educations, and the Tennessee Promise Scholarship, which fills gaps in costs not covered by other financial aid.

The new grant, with an estimated budget of about $9 million dollars, will be funded by the interest off a state lottery fund begun in 2003.

“As businesses and industries look to locate or expand… they’re looking for citizens that have some type of post-secondary degree,” said State Rep. Hawk. “This is going to allow us to incentivize our working adults who may not have that higher education degree to go back to school to make themselves more attractive to new business and industry.” All of which makes this a solid investment in the state’s future.

High School Students Can Now Receive Scholarship Money in Exchange for Good Grades

A happy high school boy holding up a paper with an "A+" on it.

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Pay-for-As is not unfamiliar to many American students; it’s been a mid-level resort of parents hoping to inspire their kids as long as grades have been a measuring stick. But now there’s a company getting in on the scheme.

Raise.me is a startup, founded by Preston Silverman, that uses small tuition grants from colleges to incentivize good grades in high school students. Under certain conditions, students can earn up to $80,000 towards their own college education via the platform.

So far, 225 institutions have partnered with the website, and over 700,000 students have used it, nearly half of them either low-income or first-generation college-goers.

Students between 9th and 12th grade can use the site for free (its profit comes from the partner institutions). They can apply to earn micro-grants, sometimes referred to as scholarships, from as many schools as will have them, but will only actually receive their funds from whichever college they choose to attend in the end.

For instance, as a freshman, a student could join in the programs of schools A, B, and C, and their grades would earn them potential scholarships from each. But when they graduate high school, apply to A and B, and accept an offer at B, only the funds they earned from B will be applied to their tuition. The other funds will be absorbed back into the general pool for other students.

Each partner institution will have their own rubric for awarding funds. Some will award $1,000 for each A, some only $50. Some will include rewards for leadership positions in clubs, student government, and sports. Some have maximums on earnings via Raise.me, others do not.

With this site, a great deal of power is put into the hands of the student to make their schoolwork work for them. It’s still up to them to get into these schools, or they risk losing any of these scholarships, but having them available tilts the odds in their favor.

House Representative Wants to Make K-12 Education Optional

An empty classroom.

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Paul Mosley is a newcomer to the Arizona House of Representatives. He’s a Republican from Lake Havasu City, and he’s ready to leave his mark on the state.

A dark and ugly mark.

While Mosley claims to support all walks of school from public to elite, he also thinks that school should be entirely optional. Optional.

“Education used to be a privilege,” he said in an interview with the Arizona Capitol Times. “People used to believe getting an education was something you had to be privileged to get, that you had to work hard to get. Now we basically force it down everybody’s throats.

“The number one thing I would like to repeal is the law on compulsory education… I believe education is still a privilege, and the kids who don’t want to be there are a larger distraction to the kids who do want to be there.”

While he criticizes schools for taking over the “personal responsibility” of parents, he does so in the same breath as he acknowledges that schools feed poor children and give them protection for half their waking hours. But he believes that all that is overstepping the responsibilities of the state.

Compulsory education in the United States is nearly four hundred years old. It began with a 1642 law in the Massachusetts Bay Colony requiring parents to raise their children with basic literacy. Two hundred years later, that had evolved to a law requiring every town to have a common school and all children to attend. In 1918, Mississippi was the last state to adopt compulsory education.

Education has never been more important. There are fewer and fewer blue collar jobs every year. The current projection is that by 2020, when this year’s freshmen graduate, 65 percent of all American jobs will require training or school beyond high school.

While Mosley has not yet introduced legislation to make school purely optional, he plans to do so. Arizona is already among the worst educational environments in America. His preferences would send it straight to the dark ages.