What a special treat it was for me to celebrate the accomplishments of the latest class of graduates of the D.C. Achievers program last night at the Howard Theater! Five Trinity Women were among the dozens of recent college graduates who packed the theater with their families and posed for their class photo on the stage, above. The Trinity graduates include: Marnika Kitchings, Daphne Ortiz, Sandra Villegas, Shumeka Moore and Erica Cooke. Congratulations to all!
The D.C. Achievers Scholarships are part of a program funded by the Gates Foundation and conducted by the College Success Foundation (CSF). I sit on the board of CSF-DC and am constantly amazed by the powerful stories of students from Wards 7 and 8 in D.C. who have triumphed over great adversity to earn their college degrees.
I sit in a lot of meetings about the future of higher education, the cost of college, financial aid, federal student loans, Pell Grants, and whether any of this is worth it. There’s a fashionable trend among some bloggers and pundits to criticize higher education and to say that it’s just not worth it. Really? Tell that to the young man who stood proudly on the stage last night and spoke of the fact that because he was the first in his family to go to college, all of his siblings are now following in his footsteps. I dare the critics to say it’s not worth it to the young woman who courageously worked in overdrive to finish her degree in three years even while having a baby and raising the child by herself during her college days. Who are these elitists to say that a student who must work through the night at a burger joint to pay for her Shakespeare and Calculus courses by day is any less worthy of the full menu of college than a well-heeled student at an elite university whose idea of a hard choice is whether to study abroad in London or Paris?
The assault on the worth of college comes at a time when more low income students of color than ever before are enrolling. Hmmm. Perhaps it’s wrong to connect these particular dots, but I find it more than curious that even as the face of higher ed is changing rapidly, elite writers and policy wonks are advocating cutbacks in liberal arts offerings, the imposition of more utilitarian studies to produce workers only, and massive online courses as the cheaper alternative to robust campus-based learning.
The D.C. Achievers are a microcosm of our national future. They are proof that strong and consistent campus-based educational opportunities can be the great ticket to success — the same opportunities that many others of us among the Boomer generation had when we, too, were the first generation in our families to go to college.
It’s time to change the discussion away from the dangerous thoughts of pulling up the drawbridges to figuring out how we can widen the pathways to welcome even more deserving students whose achievements are changing the lives and fortunes of their families. They deserve the best, just as we did. Justice in education is not about cheapening the product, but making the best education possible available to all who can succeed.
Thanks to the Gates Foundation, the remarkable staff at the College Success Foundation, and all who contributed to the success of our DC Achievers — including our remarkable faculty and staff at Trinity!