College Readiness is Essential for Students and Businesses to Succeed

Byline by Chris Bruner, Ernst & Young's Philadelphia Office Managing Partner
Oct 5, 2012 4:50 PM ET

College readiness is essential for students and businesses to succeed

More than two-thirds of new job openings in the previous decade required some postsecondary education,[1] and by 2018, 63% of all jobs will require some form of higher education or training.[2] Despite this clear need for a college education, far too many students in Philadelphia and across the country end their scholastic endeavors with high school.

This lack of postsecondary education is poised to drastically affect the talent market, and for this reason, the business community needs step up to help Philadelphia’s young people gain access to that critical credential — a college education. Helping students envision themselves as college-ready is one of the greatest contributions we can make to help ensure the future success of both students and businesses.

Here in Philadelphia, Ernst & Young LLP and the nonprofit College For Every Student (CFES) have collaborated with Frankford High School to help young people from low-income communities become college-ready. We call this collaboration College MAP (Mentoring for Access and Persistence), and it is part of a national program in 13 US cities that brings teams of Ernst & Young mentors to high schools in underserved communities to mentor and guide students on their journey to college.

Frankford High School’s administration and teachers have a deep commitment to these students. Frankford provides the foundation upon which College MAP strives to build upon, with dedicated teams of Ernst & Young volunteers meeting regularly with the students to provide ongoing mentoring on college access issues such as researching schools, selecting a major, writing college application essays, applying for financial aid and identifying scholarship opportunities. CFES provides expertise in the college admissions process and the tools to help students prepare for — and succeed in — college. With support from families, schools and communities, we work together to help these students open doors to a future they never envisioned.

In addition to the regular meetings we have with students in the College MAP program, on September 28, Ernst & Young volunteers were able to reach even more students at Frankford High School on our EY Connect Day. On this dedicated day of service, more than 5,000 Ernst & Young employees in the East Central region were invited to report to community volunteer activities rather than the office. In Philadelphia, 30 Ernst & Young volunteers mentored more than 100 students at Frankford High School, providing information and resources around access to college and success in higher education to kick off the 2012–13 school year.

Our volunteers understand the challenges that low-income students face when considering higher education — one-third of our employees are first-generation college graduates themselves. Of utmost concern is how to finance their continued education. The economic downturn has increased fears of access to college funds, with nearly 60% of students using self-funding to pay for higher education. Plus, borrowing has become more difficult for families and students with limited or no credit history. Yet consider this troubling fact: in the United States, where a bachelor’s degree can translate to an additional $1.1 million in income over the course of a lifetime, just 6% of low-income students earn one by the age of 24.

This is not good enough — not just for us as business leaders, but for these children, for their families and for the future of our city. The business acumen in Philadelphia is high. Our expectations are higher. Helping young people gain access to education should be a top priority for businesses to help ensure the presence of a skilled work force. The success of programs like College MAP demonstrates the power that mentoring and advocacy can have in the lives of young people.

Last year, 15 students at Frankford High School began the College MAP program as juniors. This year, they look forward to graduation in the spring. But unlike many of their peers, these students will head off to college next fall. High school graduation is not a finish line, but an important milestone on a path to a better life through education.


[1] Source: Business Civic Leadership Center

[2] Source: The Lumina Foundation