Programs that make a real difference

Each week, Symposium Magazine invites an author to guest-blog. This week, Judith Sebesta is blogging about “College for All, Or Just For Some?

In Monday’s post, I offered examples of how universities can serve the public good by collaborating with their communities. Today I want to address some models to support the non-degreed individuals I discussed in my article.

At the most basic level, we have social services to sustain basic needs – food, shelter, safety. Other programs are targeted at improving lives through education, but they tend to focus on the goal of college degree completion. Some employers encourage continuing education, but most require that classes directly relate to the employee’s current job or immediate career path.

It may be more useful, then, to look at those entities that improve the lives of the non-degreed, the working class, the under-represented and the disenfranchised — without assuming the only path to success is higher education.

In the national arena, Working America, the community engagement arm of the AFL-CIO, advocates “economic justice” for working families: affordable health care, better pay, retirement security, and yes, access to education.

Other programs seem to work effectively on a grassroots level. Nashville’s Oasis Center empowers teens to make “better choices” that include education, but it also promote routes to support the successful transition to adulthood among at-risk youth.

Seattle Artthrob follows the Depression-era model of the WPA to support artists by offering shareholders a pick of art from a group of juried, subsidized local artists. In Austin, there is Urban Roots, which empowers youth through agricultural training while increasing access to healthy food in the community.

In the for-profit arena, Whole Foods was identified by Fortune magazine as one of the top 10 best companies to work for in 2013, due to better starting pay than competitors and opportunities for advancement. Darden Restaurants, the parent company of chains like Red Lobster and Olive Garden was also on the list, thanks to its policy of offering low-cost insurance to part-time employees.

I invite readers to identify similar programs, organizations, or companies that provide support to better the lives of non-degreed individuals.

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