Rhodes’ Civic Efforts Should be Applauded

Monday, April 23, 2012, Vol. 127, No. 79

With all of talk about the consolidation of our two public school systems, it’s easy to overlook higher education in the Memphis area. And that would be a mistake for many reasons.

The education reforms that are changing classrooms across the country are with the goal of not only preparing high school students to get into college but to complete college with some kind of certification or degree. Just getting in isn’t the goal anymore. That change coincides with a renewed commitment to trying to keep more of those who complete college in our community.

Over the last decade, Rhodes College has made purposeful strides toward both of these goals with a focused approach to linking service programs to what happens in the classroom. The college is a national leader in these endeavors and our community is richer for these efforts.

Many of these students will go on to graduate schools across the country and their education in our city is theirs to do with as they wish, wherever there is opportunity.

That’s where the rest of us must step up to continue the opportunities that are now firmly connected to Rhodes and other campuses.

Like Rhodes and elsewhere, we must compete. The broader community’s competition is for the talents that are developed in Memphis.

We won’t win the competition all of the time. Part of this is about young people having a chance to see other parts of the country and the world. And the perspective that brings is also part of an education. Its value is in the possibility that in seeking that perspective their journey may take them far from home to make a new home and new life elsewhere.

But there is a difference between seeking that perspective and its journey and leaving Memphis because the opportunities here are too limited. The first is a possibility. The second is a certainty that too many of our best and brightest figure out well before they leave Memphis.

The die is cast while they are still here running an obstacle course that might as well include a map to any place else once they graduate.

There are still important differences between public and private schools. But increasingly students in both are approaching the world off campus as an extension of what happens on campus. There isn’t the threshold where the “real world” of countless parental and faculty talks and commencement speeches suddenly rises up in front of the robed graduate.

The introduction to that world comes sooner and on a continuous basis. The promise of being able to have an impact on the part of the world we call Memphis has an entry point at Rhodes College as real as one of the campus’s many gateways.