Education and the Difficult Path to Excellence

Today's post is authored by Education Project Group member, Kavya Davuluri.

A week ago I discussed one way that education impacts health. If you would like to learn more about this first way, click HERE 

In today’s post, I introduce to you another way through which education impacts health. It’s less direct than the first, but just as poignant.

Last semester, I took a sociology class instructed by Dr. Janet Hankin, who also happens to be the professor of Dawn Misra, Ph.D., the Associate Chair for Research and panelist for MedEq’s Health Disparities panel discussion a week ago. Small world, I know. In this course, I was taught about the striking correlation between economic status and health along with how it relates to health disparities.

Consider this. Education accounts for 1/3 of one’s socioeconomic status (SES) directly; but income and occupation are extremely dependent on one’s education. After all, it’s hammered into our minds that we must study hard and earn high grades if we want our adult lives to be as successful and stress-free as they can be.

And where does this success lie? In the mail or via direct deposit into our banking accounts where our salaries are gracefully deposited. The overlying connection between education and income has been proven and studied time after time. “American workers with a college degree are paid 74 percent more than those with only a high school degree, on average, nearly the biggest premium in the O.E.C.D.” The better educated the group, the lower the unemployment rate -- and this striking result is consistent over a ten-year period and is highly significant. These figures strongly suggest weak demand in our economy -- over a long period -- for less educated workers. “It’s becoming increasingly unlikely that a low-income student, no matter how intrinsically bright, moves up the socioeconomic ladder. What we’re talking about is a threat to the American dream.” Need I recite more? But the most worrying aspect of education and income’s relationship lies in the last quote, from Sean Reardon, professor of sociology at Stanford. There comes a point where even education cannot alter one’s SES, because the student will most likely become a low-income earner, like their parents before them. When we put into perspective the unfortunate fact that lower income generally means lower health levels, it becomes far more worrying.

The problem with education today is this. Students are unable to make the jump from public school to college, from a hardworking and potentially sickly future to a peaceful, healthy one. SES doesn’t simply impact what sort of home one may buy, the clothes their children wear, or what hobbies they can pursue. It decides whether they can treat that cough before it blooms into pneumonia. Scan that headache before it becomes an aneurysm. Put someone on the list for a transplant before it’s too late. Test, vaccinate, diagnose, and treat. All things that could happen to anyone and all things that would be like an apple on a branch just an inch above your struggling fingers for those with low income, low SES, and low education.

Let me disclaim before I’m misunderstood. This isn’t to say that those from lower socioeconomic regions or families aren’t able to climb the social ladder. Rather, it is an encouragement to work against the difficulty that society has so generously gifted you. It is a request to be more than a corroboration of a statistic. It’s a call to arms.

Only your arms? A pen, a book, a teacher, and your mind.

Last week I introduced to you one way through which education impacts health. This is another.

The request I made for those in a difficult position to persist? The solution to the dilemma doesn’t end there. Though you may not be from a lower income family, haven’t ever been sick in your life, or are serenely reclining in the cubicle of your high paying job while you read this, recognize that although the problem isn’t happening directly to you, it’s happening to those around you, like you, maybe even beloved by you. The request doesn’t end with those fighting for themselves; it continues to you, to fight for others.

Okay. But, how exactly am I supposed to help decrease educational disparities which essentially directly result in health disparities, you might be asking.

Here are my answers: fund an annual scholarship for low income students, talk with your nearest low-income-area-serving public school about donations, volunteer as a mentor or a tutor, offer to come in and give a presentation about going on to college, figure out how to help out an existing organization like the Russell Sage Foundation, or our own Detroit based MedEq.

These suggestions are changes that I came up with. Efforts that I am and will continue to work on in order to answer the question of how to decrease education inequalities.

These answers are mine, but can be yours too.

Which do you choose?

Choose carefully. Embrace fully. Impact beautifully.


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