"We have proclaimed our faith in education as a means of equalizing the conditions of men. But there is grave danger that our present policy will make it an instrument for creating the very inequalities it was designed to prevent. If the ladder of educational opportunity rises high at the doors of some youth and scarcely rises at all at the doors of others, while at the same time formal education is made a prerequisite to occupational and social advance, then education may become the means, not of eliminating race and class distinctions, but of deepening and solidifying them."
– Report of the Truman Commission on Higher Education, 1947
America's promise as a land of opportunity is fading when it is needed most—and is within our reach. Recession and global competition have diminished the market for unskilled, well-paying jobs. The need is for education and training that prepare people—and communities—for the next generation of good jobs.
But as the Truman Commission foresaw, formidable barriers are in the way for a growing number of Americans. Studies have found that nearly half of American men who grew up in households with incomes in the bottom 20 percent never rise out of poverty—half as many as in other wealthy countries. The reason is the debilitating nature of deep poverty—poor nutrition, inadequate schools, and the cost of higher education. These are barriers that few can overcome.
The answer is equity—leveling the track so no one's climb is too steep. That's different from equality, which says everyone is allowed at the starting line. Equity means providing those with the toughest climb the support they need to get there. MDC believes that equity can be created by removing the barriers in people's way. The pathway to opportunity starts with helping families take advantage of all the supports available to them—in health, nutrition, tax credits, and education. It continues by removing the educational and economic barriers that make it hard for many to achieve postsecondary success, and then connecting students and educators with local employers. Once people have a better-paying job, they stay on the path by saving what they earn as a cushion against misfortune. Finally, the path is maintained by demonstrating to communities and their leaders that removing those barriers enhances everyone's personal and economic wellbeing.