I was reading recently about El Dorado, Arkansas. It's not a place I've been, but certainly one I'd like to visit. The information I read about their recent Great American Main Street Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation is interesting, and the fact that their downtown is at 100% occupancy is impressive. The photographs make it look like a place you'd love to visit and maybe even live.
But the thing that attracted my attention most of all was a little blurb about the "El Dorado Promise, which means local high school grads are guaranteed full college tuition through 2027. This is due to a private gift of $50-million.
Lets back up to the part where all high school graduates are going to college. Repeat that, if you will. Every student can go to college.
If you are looking for a solution for whatever ails your town, business, community, family, whatever, here it is. Everyone goes to college. I can hear the rumblings already - college doesn't solve everything, not everyone needs to go to college, etc. etc. etc. That's true. But the reality is that college graduates make more money. If you're a town looking for a tax base, you want some college graduates and/or people who happen to be wealthy enough to give a $50-million gift to improve your town.
I see "improvements" all the time that cost millions of dollars. This money goes into making investments in all sorts of things, but rarely people. People, of course, are the most valuable resource a community has.
And anyone with an iota of common sense knows that education is the way to make a difference. Education is the way out, the way up, and the way in.
This is a long term solution - it's not attracting a new factory or building a new convention center or redoing the look of a street. People like quick fixes and concrete, visible results. Goodness knows I'm a girl who appreciates immediate gratification, but while that is easily accomplished when all you need is a chocolate fix, it's a little more difficult when you're trying to effect social change.
This is different. It's about making a sustained difference over the long haul, and it's more intangible. The results will be real, but they'll only be visible some years in the future when entreprenuers are flourishing, architects are designing, engineers are creating, and teachers are teaching.
It's long term change. The only kind that works. The kind most people have no stomach for. Because individuals can't see beyond the ends of their noses, towns can't ever do anything visionary because they're made up of individuals who won't allow it. But El Dorado, Arkansas had an angel who decided to circumvent all of that and do something special. And generous. And beneficial. This will benefit El Dorado, Arkansas, for decades to come. Because someone had some vision, and the ability to make it happen.
Sending every child in your community to college is making a long term, sustained change in your town. Of course not every child will remain in your community, but some will stay and some will return. And even if they don't, you'll have people all over the country who feel a connection to the place that gave them their start in life. Some of them will amass fortunes. One of them may make a large gift to send the next few generations of kids in your town to college.