United Way Conversation Series: Improving Economic Mobility Starts With Education

By Meghan Barp, President & CEO

At United Way of Greenville County, we believe everyone deserves access to quality education and the opportunity to reach their full potential — because the right support, resources and experiences can change the direction of a person’s life forever.

Whether it’s a young child’s readiness to start kindergarten or an older student’s ability to stay on track to graduation or earn a post-secondary certification, so much of what happens outside of school impacts the educational achievement of all students. That’s why we approach education from the lens of our Economic Mobility Model, understanding how each of our three interconnected impact areas — Education, Financial Stability and Vibrant & Equitable Communities — are imperative to our future success as a community.

Education is a powerful antipoverty tool and the most consistent driver of sustained upward mobility. But to have the best chance to succeed in school, graduate and become financially stable, students must also have their basic needs met at home. That means having equitable access to opportunities for support.

Although education is the most robust predictor of financial stability, 12 percent of adults (25 and older) in Greenville County do not have a high school diploma, and only 35 percent hold a bachelor’s or graduate degree. 

Even more troubling is the race gap in educational attainment. In Greenville County, only 17 percent of African American students and 14 percent of Hispanics hold college degrees, compared to 39 percent of whites.

By the time students in Greenville County schools reach eighth grade, more than half are failing to meet the state standards for math and English — a key predictor of graduation rates. The numbers are even more dramatic for students in our highest need schools, where the effects of poverty make it difficult to stay on track to graduation.

Not earning a degree has long-term effects not only on a student’s life, but on our entire community. The average salary for adults who drop out of school ranges between $20,000 and $25,000, compared to $38,150 for high school graduates and $67,760 for graduates with a four-year degree. Only those with a college degree would earn enough to meet basic needs for a family of one adult and one child according to the S.C. Self-Sufficiency Standard in Greenville County.

We know we must do better. 

Your support of United Way is an investment in programs and initiatives that address these challenges by working to help students start school equipped to succeed, graduate from high school ready for post-secondary education or entry into the workforce, and become financially stable adults. This includes strategic investments in 30 proven local partners providing tutoring, mentoring, social-emotional learning, afterschool programs and more, as well as our innovative collaborative program OnTrack Greenville.

I recently sat down with OnTrack Greenville Executive Director Edward Anderson and Greenville First Steps Executive Director Derek Lewis for an in-depth conversation on the current challenges we face in education and how we can solve them. While there is no magic bullet, or overnight solution, we’re optimistic about our ability to create change through a unique mix of collaboration, public and private investment, advocacy and innovation that has created impactful local initiatives like OnTrack Greenville, First Steps, Nurse-Family Partnership, the Institute for Child Success and more. Watch the full conversation below.

The challenges we face are complex. To solve them, we’ll need our community’s support more than ever before. Click here to learn more and get involved.

Making a difference starts here


Making a Difference Starts Here

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