By Samm Leska, CDM Eastern Regional Director
On Monday, February 6, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan came to Emerson College along with Senator John Kerry for a meeting with Emerson College President Lee Pelton to discuss the future of higher education. After their meeting, the three opened up their discussion to over 130 college students from over 10 different colleges throughout the state. College students were able to express their concerns about the future of higher education at Emerson College, in the state of Massachusetts, and nationally.
I was lucky enough to ask a question of the panel that afternoon. I asked the three what we can do in the future to incentivize college service programs like Americorps that many college students throughout the country participate in each year. As an Emerson student I wanted to know what the college could due in terms of funding for programs that have college students teach low-income students from across the city of Boston. On a national level I wanted to know what we could do to secure larger scholarships for students who give back to their community through these programs.
While there was not much said on the part of Emerson President Lee Pelton about what could be done locally at Emerson besides providing a larger chunk of money to financial aid services each year, Senator John Kerry spoke passionately about the service work students throughout the state of Massachusetts do through programs like Americorps each year. Senator Kerry recounted a story of how his own daughter participated in a long term service program that was focused on mentoring low-income students when she was in college and how he saw those programs benefit his own daughter in addition to the child she mentored. To this day Senator Kerry’s daughter still keeps in contact with the child she was partnered with, which he says speaks to the importance of mentoring. He harped on the importance of the bond that college students form with these children because in today’s education climate it is increasingly difficult for teachers to cater to individual students due to the overwhelming amount of students that fill their classrooms every day.
As a student who has participated in these programs before, I appreciated the Senator’s enthusiasm about the power of service and how it needs to be a crucial part of education reform in this country. Teachers are often put in a difficult situation having to choose whether to push ahead with more advanced material for their students and leave the others behind or hold back the students who are ahead in order to catch up the students who are behind. Kerry said that college students are an untapped resource that can help fix this dilemma. If more college students were participating in these programs then it would inevitably increase the quality of education for younger low-income students who find themselves falling behind. In addition, programs like these reward the college students with scholarships to further their own higher education, so these service programs are increasing the quality and accessibility of education to students of all backgrounds.
Finally, the Senator ended his answer to my question with a call to action. He stated that the Republicans in Congress think the solution to our country’s problem is to cut service programs instead of investing our money in students’ education. As a Democrat, he has fought to keep Americorps programs afloat as the Republicans threatened to cut funding every year. He asked for the students in the room to be aware of who is investing in the future education of this country through programs like this and who is looking to get rid of them completely. When it comes time to vote in November students can help decide what the future education of this country is going to look like at the ballot box.
As a College Democrat, not only do I appreciate having an advocate in the Senator on this issue, but I also think the Senator’s call to action is one that it is important for students across the country to hear. The day after the Senator told students to vote, Emerson Democrats and other chapters across the state registered hundreds of new student voters. I hope that the work CDM students do each year can help carry out the Senator’s call to action, and ultimately help influence the future of education reform in the United States.