As a public member of the CECU Board of Directors, I felt a need to express my thoughts on the present events that appear to be reordering our society. But the words that follow are my own; not an official statement from the Board. I bring to this conversation more than 40 years of experience in this sector as well as three plus years as the former Executive Director of the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools. Leading this sector’s work in health education has been one of the great chapters in my professional life.
Although my father was Blackfoot Indian and my mother an African American, I was raised as an African-American. Michael Cooney, the photographer at many of our conferences, would constantly say to me that I was the soul of this industry. Yet I am not alone. Hanover Research recently completed a study of the demographics of students in our sector. They shared that 38% of students at 4-year schools; 49% of all students in 2-year schools; and almost 52% of all students in our less than 2-year schools are of color!
I am proud of these numbers because my own father could neither read nor write; and he signed his name with an “x.” So I can say that we are doing more to provide equal opportunity than any other sector of higher education. And that is what warms my heart about all of you in this sector. Many of you spend little time talking about yourself or even your love of education. You just do it!
As we reorder this special moment in America, we must shrink that gap between us so that the despair can lead to hope – a hope that maybe, just maybe, this is the time when the nation will really make an effort to break down the prejudices and barriers that undermine so many.
The pandemic has told us the facts: African-Americans have felt both the economic and health impacts of the pandemic in far greater numbers than any other element of our population. Black men have always led the unemployment numbers, but today, Black men have the highest unemployment in a decade!
In 2019, McKinsey & Company published a study “The Future of Work in Black America.” Their respected research suggests that automation trends will widen the racial wealth gap even more.
We can’t let that happen. And I believe this sector is positioned to prevent it from happening. But it won’t happen on its own. It will take a collective commitment of the entire sector to make the changes necessary. This will require the development of an institutional culture comprised of the many parts of the institution to align to support all learners.
You all have learned much as you transitioned from onsite to online learning, and I’m sure each one of you can share the story of this student in your school. Their spouse has lost their job. Their children now depend on the parents to teach them. And this family has no computer or home WiFi to support the children’s online learning at their elementary school; and the parent’s online learning at your school. Recent data shows that approximately 20% of the nation’s population is without digital access! The digital divide is real, and it is thriving in Black America.
Here are three suggestions for your consideration:
First, I’d love to see our sector commit to increasing completion and graduation rates by no less than 5% per year. You need to practice “tough love.” Do not enroll students who are unlikely to complete their studies. Debt with no degree is not giving a student a chance; it is sentencing a student to a life of debt with no means to pay it off. We have seen that happen too many times in our sector.
Don’t discard the student. Work with them outside of your regular classes in ways that can prepare them with the basic skills essential to success in your school. Then enroll them when they are able to not only start but also to graduate!
Second, as you develop tuition and fees, please include a computer and WiFi access! Make sure that every student enrolling has both a computer and home access to WiFi! If it is a 2-year program, work with your local WiFi provider to install such access in the homes of those without it, sending you the bill.
You want to win community service recognition? This will do it. But more importantly, your students will succeed in ways not possible before. And that is why you do what you do.
Third, commit your students to successful learning through distance education! There will be more interruptions of onsite education. Distance learning is here to stay. We know that students enrolled in distance education today have higher drop-out rates than students enrolled in onsite classes. We must all change that! We know how to retain the residential student. Let’s now figure out how to retain for online learning. Check with those institutions who have great outcomes for online learning and use their methods for best practices.
If you walk these three small, simple steps you will change the future of your students – all of them, including your students of color! But reflect for just a moment on what I’ve said. These three small steps will not only enable your students to graduate; they will enable your students to have the foundation for succeeding for the rest of their lives. We know automation will change jobs; and job skills. Give your students the tools to manage those changes in their professional careers.
I am proud of so many of you because I have seen and heard you quote the words of Nelson Mandela when he said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” He made this statement at the launch in July of 2013 of the Mindset Network across Africa. This organization seeks to bring education and technology to all of Africa’s people.
And as Angela Davis said, “Segregation has been disestablished because ordinary people became collectively aware of themselves as potential agents of social change with the power to create a new world.” Today, you are already bringing education to America’s students of color. But the nation now asks you to do even more. As you ponder that question, consider the strategic steps I’ve offered above.
If you do, you will change the lives of millions here at home. And for that, our nation will say “thanks!”
Public Member of CECU’s Board of Directors
Career Education Colleges and Universities (CECU) is the national organization serving postsecondary career education schools, staff – and most important, our students. They are a voluntary membership organization that serves as the national voice for the sector. Today, approximately 500 campuses across the nation are represented through their school’s membership. They are the schools who equip students with career skills – from allied health and nursing to mechanics, welding and the trades, culinary, cosmetology, truck driving and beyond!
MDT Marketing is a proud Allied member of CECU. Their vision and mission enhances our own. Read our vision statement here.