More than 350 students, K-12 educators, college representatives and corporate partners who attended the 2015 College For Every Student (CFES) National Conference in Burlington, Vermont received this inspiring opening message from CFES President and CEO Dr. Rick Dalton.
Attendees were motivated by the presentations of two keynote speakers: Lucille O’Neal, mother of NBA great Shaquille O’Neal and author of Walk Like You Have Somewhere to Go, and Dr. Calvin Mackie, founder of STEMNOLA, a New Orleans-based organization dedicated to encouraging young persons’ interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).
In fast-paced and frequently humorous style, both O’Neal and Mackie struck similar chords: hope transforms lives and hope is the answer; focus on education, which is a key enabler of great outcomes; you must have a dream, but you’ve got to put in the work to achieve it; and college IS for every student.
Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (NY-21), who, in 2014, became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress delivered closing remarks. She was the first member of her family to graduate from college, a characteristic shared by the majority of the 25,000 CFES Scholars currently enrolled in 200 schools in 30 U.S. states.
In thanking CFES for making a college education possible for so many, Cong. Stefanik noted the importance of expanding access among low-income students to top quality, affordable college degrees. As a nation, she said, we must address the “crisis of college affordability,” adding that the current aggregate college student loan debt is $1.3 trillion and growing. “This is unsustainable,” she declared.
Closing the Skills Gap
Celebrating its 25th year, CFES built the conference around the theme: Closing the Skills Gap: Ensuring that Low-Income Students are College & Career Ready.
Since 1991, the Essex, New York based CFES has helped more than 100,000 mostly low-income students in more than 700 K-12 schools in both urban and rural communities improve academic achievement and attain the “Essential Skills,” build leadership capacity and civic engagement and ultimately graduate from high school, get into – and succeed – in college.
Recently, CFES has partnered with Trinity College, Dublin, which is now coordinating a parallel program in Ireland.
Closing the Skills Gap is both a national and international priority, as millions of high paying and “middle skills” jobs go unfilled because young adults lack post-secondary education and relevant skills. Meanwhile, these young people waste their talent and potential in low-wage, low-skill jobs, or worse, remain chronically unemployed.
They are caught in the “skills gap,” which CFES and conference sponsor the GE Foundation describe as a collective term in that the skills gap manifests in three basic ways: the Essential Skills gap; the Degree Completion gap; and the STEM gap. In a series of 18 workshops, panel discussions and roundtables, the CFES National Conference explored these gaps and addressed strategies to narrow them.
Kelli Wells, Executive Director of Education and Skills for the GE Foundation, highlighted the importance of developing “the Essential Skills.” “It’s not the college you graduated from or your academic degree that’s important to employers,” she said. “What’s important is: have you developed the essential skills that will enable you to succeed in your job?”
She listed grit, perseverance, resiliency, adaptability, ability to collaborate in a team environment, understanding diversity and how to leverage social media as the qualities that employers are seeking and that workers must have to succeed in the 21st Century workforce.
Dr. David Attis, Senior Director of Research at the Education Advisory Board, addressed the STEM Gap: less than 5 percent of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics degrees in the U.S. are awarded to low income students; and the College Degree Completion Gap: nearly half of all American students drop out of college and fail to attain a degree. Developing strong mentoring programs, often implemented by community, corporate and college resources, is a key strategy in improving college retention, he said.
A strong mentoring program is the foundational building block of the Ernst & Young Mentoring for Access and Persistence (MAP) Program, as described by Carolina Dominguez, EY’s College MAP Program Manager, Corporate Responsibility. EY employees serve as mentors for more than 1,000 low-income high school students in 31 U.S. cities.
Students are actively mentored from the 11th grade through their senior year in college. “Developing transferable skills is our focus,” said Dominguez, who added, “Once we begin to support the students, we support them all the way.” EY joined General Electric Foundation supporting the 2015 CFES National Conference.
GE Foundation’s Wells urged the 65 CFES student scholars in the audience to pay it forward: “Your role here at CFES is not just about you. You have a responsibility to take it back and become an advocate to and for others. Become a mentor yourself…go back to your school, reach out and help others. This is how, together, we will carry this momentum forward.”
In closing the conference, CFES Program Director Hasan Davis, Former Commissioner at Kentucky Department of Juvenile Justice electrified the audience.
“We in CFES are ‘hope dealers,'” he concluded. “CFES is a brave, bold idea. We level the playing field so that college is indeed for every student.”
- GE-Published Report Identifies Steps to Close Skills Gap for Low-Income Students (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Responding to a Global Crisis: Helping One Million More Low-Income Students Attain College Degrees (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Closing the Skills Gap: Helping Young People Become Exceptional (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- CFES Global Summit in Essex Featured in Huffington Post (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)