Making Change and Closing Gaps
February is Black History Month — an annual celebration of the contributions and achievements of black Americans and a time to recognize the central role African-Americans have played in the history of the United States. While this month provides an excellent opportunity to reflect on the past, we can also use this as an opportunity to acknowledge how far our state and country have to go to create equal opportunities for ALL citizens.
In today’s economy, postsecondary education has become less of a privilege and more of a necessity. And while we know that having a college degree or certificate can mean the difference between a middle-class lifestyle and poverty, far too many students (particularly students of color) aren’t given the tools and resources necessary to succeed after high school.
I know firsthand the role that a college degree can play in one’s life. As the first one in my family to graduate from college, I questioned whether I was college material. With a strong financial, academic and emotional support system, I was able to graduate from Central Michigan University (and later Western Michigan University). In 2012, I was elected as a county commissioner, making me the youngest African-American woman serving in that capacity. None of this would have been possible without a strong support system encouraging me to continue my education. Attending college changed the course of my life and sparked a passion in me to send a message to students who share the doubts I once had.
Today, thousands of African-American students are sitting in classrooms wondering what life will bring after high school. For many, we know that there are academic, social and financial barriers that will hinder their path. According to the Lumina Foundation’s “Stronger Nation Report,” the postsecondary educational attainment rate for African-Americans in Michigan is 25.6 percent, which lags behind the national average of 29.3 percent. In contrast, the attainment rate for white students in Michigan is 41.2 percent and 45.7 percent nationally. Based on the significant racial gaps in educational attainment, it’s clear opportunities aren’t always equal.
At the Michigan College Access Network (MCAN), we’re committed to closing this gap and leveling the playing field for African-Americans seeking higher education.
Our mission at MCAN is to increase college readiness, participation, and completion in Michigan, particularly among low-income students, first-generation college-going students and students of color. We believe that college is for everybody, that it is a necessity and that it is a public good. Our new strategic plan is pushing us to double down on our equity imperative to create the skilled and educated workforce our state needs to succeed.
Higher education and Michigan’s economic success go hand in hand. We need to continue prioritizing education and providing resources to high school students in order to reach our big goal of increasing the percentage of Michigan residents with degrees or postsecondary certificates to 60 percent by the year 2025 — regardless of race, ethnicity or background.
I’m proud to champion MCAN’s message to every single student that they are college material. If we want to position our state as a driving force in the national economy, we must work to close the educational attainment gap. All of Michigan’s residents need the 21st century skills necessary to compete in the global market economy.
The views and opinions expressed here are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Education Trust-Midwest.