Alleviating some of the financial burdens of the state and federal government comes down to a number, according to U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-4 -- the $40,000 it costs for a year of college or the $40,000 it costs to keep someone incarcerated for the same amount of time.

"A child who does not graduate from high school is damned, at best, to a life of minimum wage [salaries]," Himes said. "In fact... the rates for incarceration go up 40 to 50 percent. We're talking about children here who do not graduate who will at some point in their lifetimes find themselves incarcerated."

As the nation faces burgeoning deficits and municipalities seek to limit the increase of spending on education, Himes pinpointed advocacy -- whether it comes from legislators, nonprofit organizations or individuals -- as a means to further educational initiatives, to benefit not just the individual students, but the country as a whole.

"It's critical to our democracy, the concept of citizenship, the economic spending powers of those individuals who go on to get a college educations and it's immensely critical to the economics of our society," he said.

Himes' message -- delivered tonight at the residence of Annie Abram and Steve Novak on Clapboard Hill in Westport -- was heard loud and clear by the crowd of about 40 people involved in the College Summit, a nonprofit organization that seeks to get students in troubled school districts enrolled in universities. In Connecticut, the nationwide organization works in Bridgeport and New Haven high schools in order to get seniors thinking about the viability and critical important of college.

As the economy has worsened during the past two years, Bassick High School guidance counselor Ellen Rossoff has seen the toll it has taken on the job market.

"College is more important than it's ever been and so is the College Summit," said Rossoff, who has worked with the College Summit for a year.

With the organization's push to move to the classrooms those conversations that typically only took place in the guidance counselor's office, Rossoff has noticed a difference in the students.

"Kids are talking college more. They're talking GPAs more. They're talking SATs more," she said. "The vocabulary is changing."

While progress has been made in some of the nation's more financially-challenged school districts, Himes sees the United States as lagging behind other countries. He said that reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind Act is a key component in helping, but that legislatures will need to get "serious" about education.

"If we continue to fall behind in the production of scientists, mathematicians and engineers, guess what?" Himes said. "The next Google, the next Microsoft, you name the company ... is not going to be here. It's going to be abroad. So it is existential to this country that we get this right."

Himes, who resides in Greenwich and is running for a second term this year, has two daughters enrolled in that town's public schools. They are lucky to be enrolled where they are, he said.

"They have peers 20 miles away, 30 miles away, who aren't so lucky," he said.