First Fund: Accelerating Children to Higher Education

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I was working as an in-school tutor (when we lived in Allendale), assisting in math and reading remediation. One second grade boy had been having some significant behavior issues, and the teacher asked me to talk to him in the hallway.

Not wanting to dive right into his behavior problems, I asked him some “warm-up” questions, such as what he likes to do and his favorite foods. But I was shocked by his answer when I asked where he wants to go to college.

I would have understood if he said, “I don’t know.” But he did know. He had an exact answer to this question.

He replied, “I’m not going to college.”

And when I asked why not, he said, “Because my mom says college is too expensive.”

Already at 8 years old, this boy already had the idea cemented in his brain that he would not go to college. Can you fast forward to when he’s in middle school? By the time he’s in 7th or 8th grade, he’s going to figure out that there is no point in working hard and doing his best in school.

Discouraged from College

To his mother’s defense, I don’t know if she specifically told him that he can’t go to college. Maybe she did. Or maybe he overheard her telling someone else who she’d like to go back to college, but cannot afford it. And maybe her own hopes for college were crushed as a child, and she’s just passing on what she was taught.

And if this child is being raised only by his mother, he has the odds stacked against him even more. Recent research indicates that children from single-parent families are significantly less likely to graduate from college.

I’ve never told my kids, “You MUST go to college!” But they know that my wife and I graduated from college, and we had great college experiences. For a child to think a college education is a feasible opportunity, he must be told (or encouraged) to go, or he must see a model of someone who went and succeeded. Preferably, a child will have both.

College IS Expensive

In a sense, this boy and his mother are correct. College is expensive. Twenty years ago, my Freshman year at Furman, my scholarships covered the full cost of room and board, totaling $18,000 per year. Today, the same bill would run over $50,000 per year.

We have to break this A+B=C thinking:

  1. A = College is expensive.
  2. B = I can’t afford it.
  3. C = Therefore, I won’t go to college.

We can’t change (outside of top-level policy makers) change the first point, but we want to change the third. The only remaining option is to affect the second point.

Whether or not a parent believes that a child will attend college is a huge factor in that child’s early academic success. But a parent living at or near the poverty line is thinking about meeting short-term needs, not long-range educational goals.

The First Fund

That’s why I love the concept of The First Fund. This non-profit provides “a scholarship for first-grade students and the teachers, parents, and guardians who love them.” Students are nominated by teachers, and selected students have a 529 education savings plan opened in their name, with $1000 of “seed” money.

Sure, a $1000 scholarship is not enough to send a child to college. But partnered with financial support and mentorship, parents and children are encouraged to think positively about — and plan effectively for — post-high school education.

I’ve contributed to The First Fund, and I encourage you to do the same. Every $1000 donated goes directly to a needy and deserving first grade student.

The First Fund is here to repeatedly say, “We believe in you. We have set aside money for you. We will work with your family to save even more. And will be here to support you in these crucial fundamental years.”

One More Step?

With these three things — scholarship, financial support, and mentorship — The First Fund is doing a great work. But what if we added one more layer of support and assistance?

Here’s my dream . . . what if we had a concept like this, but we also focused on children who were in high-quality after school programs?

What if we could identify a 5- or 6-year-old student, who was already connected to a place like Frazee Center, Clubhouse Kids, Youth BASE, FIKE, etc? This child (and, presumably, his parent) is already receiving caring support. Now couple this with a scholarship fund, and I think we have a powerful force to change the face of generational poverty.

Maybe this is just a far-fetched idea for those of us in Greenville, SC. But maybe not.

Give this some thought. And give this a lot of prayer. Could we bring an idea like The First Fund to our community?

For more on this topic, check out these related articles:

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