There’s a growing divide in the United States. Not the one between political parties, though this seems to garner most of our attention lately. There’s a much more important, consequential divide in education. More and more opportunities are tied to a college degree. It’s woven into the new American Dream, a nearly ubiquitous marker of success. And in our national consciousness, the path to college is fair, even, entirely reliant on a student’s aptitude, effort, and talent.
But there are hidden costs – overlooked requirements to college admittance – that have made the new prerequisites for success nearly unreachable for our most in-need.
Oklahoma is home to several prestigious college institutions. The University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and the University of Tulsa are world-class universities. They boast facilities, professors, and students of quality and distinction. But in attracting some of the best, each sets forth selective criteria: GPA, ACT/SAT test scores, letters of recommendation, personal statements, diversified and unique extracurriculars.
Of the hard requirements, each school has a standardized test and GPA component for admittance. TU’s ACT average is a 28 (of a possible 36), OU’s is 26, OSU’s 25. All three report their GPA standard over 3.5 (on a 4.0 scale). These would be reasonable benchmarks for admittance were the playing field even.
Our lower income students are subject to extraneous “stressors” that our more affluent students are not—malnutrition, economic hardship, single or working parent(s), drug and alcohol abuse, teenage pregnancy, physical and sexual abuse, racism. These environmental stressors diminish their focus and subvert their academic success.
In short, performance on standardized tests and grade point averages are markedly depressed – and understandable so – among lower income students. And inch by inch we raise the bar higher for our most desperate kids. To even sit the ACT (with the writing section) is $56.50. A specialized tutor, a common method of improving subpar test scores, is $125 per session. Admissions counseling, the packaging and guidance of students through the forms and documents, the requirements and the interviews, runs about the same. And those are the hard assets to getting in – the prerequisites, the bare minimum. To most, this wouldn’t preclude them from reaching higher and attending college. To others it’s an effort worth making—a worthwhile savings. And for some, it is the first of many growing hurdles.
But success in college relies on soft skills as much as or more than hard skills to be prosperous. The average college student must write and speak at a high level in any manner of situations, and they will be required to lead classes and teams. They will be asked to navigate social, academic, and financial obligations by themselves – many for the first time ever. Students will have to give presentations, collaborate, succeed using abilities never taught in any curriculum.
The road to a college diploma, after being successful almost despite the odds in a deeply flawed K-12 education system, is incredibly strenuous for students and their families. The financial burden alone is prohibitively exclusive, here in Oklahoma and across the nation. But the solution starts with something small.
Our Collective at Together Tulsa cannot boil the ocean. This article was woefully brief in illustrating the implicit biases of college admissions: the burden that we place on our students is incredible. The stress and expectations. The complexity of simply getting in. And the question of where to help can seem unanswerable, while the problems that need fixing can seem unconquerable.
But our organization’s foundational belief is that it takes a village. A group of people doing their small part to make tomorrow better. Our initiative is one of persistence. We are, at our core, focused on raising awareness, and giving our kids a broader set of skills, a broader set of contacts and mentors, and a platform for their voice. That is our small part. That is our effort to make tomorrow better. And while we can’t make the ACT less expensive to sit, we are committed to helping our brilliant, creative, talented kids stand up and stand out. But we can’t do it alone.
We rely on our Collective, mentors, volunteers, and funders. People that believe in our kids and want to do their small part.
Together Tulsa has asked our collective #WhatWillYouDo? You’ve listened and read about the obstacles our Fellows and Creatives face in pursuing their dreams. And we implore you to help Together Tulsa do our small part through:
Becoming a mentor
Coaching a journalist
Joining our team
Below, we dive into the import of each action initiative. All of them are essential, all of them benefit our Creatives and Fellows directly. And each serves to remind them that despite the challenges, they aren’t lesser, invisible, or forgotten. That while the game may be stacked against it, success is possible, dreams are real, and hope is worth having.
Becoming a mentor
Becoming a mentor is the most direct way to influence the lives and futures of our Creatives. Too much is lost in our systemic responsibilities; there’s almost no one-on-one time in some of our Fellows’ lives. To listen, interact, teach, coach, inspire is the core charge of our mentors. Our fellows are immensely talented; they demonstrate a level of potential that is inspirational to be around. And the chance to direct that potential, to give it the framework with which to build and expand, is life-changing for everyone involved.
Coaching a journalist
Our society desperately needs good journalists. But moreover, our Creatives gain many of the soft skills required to excel in college by exploring journalism. Presentational bearing, concise and precise writing ability, thoughtfulness, creative interest, the ability to work as a team. These skills are indicative of the field and abilities that our Creatives will carry with them for life. At Together Tulsa, we aim to impart the knowledge of our Collective to our Fellows through education. Imagine being able to change a kid’s life by just sharing your passion. Be a coach. Share your passion. Change a life.
Joining our team
Beyond serving the Fellows in our program directly, you can be part of the Collective and the movement in Tulsa that works to bring high quality expanded learning opportunities to underserved youth. Just as it takes a village to raise a kid; it takes a team to get great operations running and effectively delivered.
We're always looking for Tulsans who want to join our Collective and bring our operations to life. We have Teams in Marketing, Event Planning, Community Connection, Fundraising, Student Outreach, Curriculum Development, and Strategy and Planning.
When you become part of Together Tulsa's Collective, you become part of a movement that is working to ensure all kids in our city get excellent educational opportunities.
Our operation is not-for-profit and runs on the generosity of our Collective. Every cent donated is funneled into our continued efforts to better the lives of children in our community, and every cent helps inch us incrementally closer. Closer to an egalitarian and effective system. Closer to teaching kids the skills, not just for college, but for life. Closer to changing the world of each and every one of our Creatives.
The problems facing our youth are grand, sweeping, deeply intertwined into our system. And changes overnight are impossible. But we must give every possible effort to making tomorrow incrementally better than today. We must be persistent, committed to change. Because each of us doing something small can make a big difference. What will you do?