Let’s Recommit to the Higher Education Act – Not Undermine It

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Harry C. Alford and Kay DeBow

Beyond the Rhetoric

By Harry C. Alford & Kay DeBow

The pandemic and economic crisis that ensued has closed thousands of businesses and deepened the economic distress of people who were already struggling. Despite Black entrepreneurs having lost over 61 percent of their businesses, we are focused on rising like a “phoenix” out of the ashes of this destruction through training, partnerships, and a resolve to overcome the crisis.

We see the strivers and overcomers continue to make a better life through education and we believe education is indeed the key!

Title IV of Higher Education Act (HEA) was created to open the doors of education to new types of universities with refined models uniquely suited to people embarking on education even though the odds seem stacked against them. Unfortunately, skeptics are influenced by outmoded thinking to marginalize these schools, no matter how they benefit students and the businesses that will hire them.

We have experienced fierce opposition to these new schools and programs from those advocating for traditional, on-campus-only higher education institutions. They wish to kill the new techniques before they even start to reach their potential.

Title IV authorizes programs that provide financial assistance to students to pursue higher education, whether at public, private nonprofit, or proprietary institutions that meet basic criteria for earning a degree and preparing a student for gainful employment in a recognized occupation.

Stated simply, the 50-year-old HEA says the poor as well as the rich deserve a shot at education and anticipates that a four-year sojourn on an ivy-covered campus of an exclusive and expensive college is not for everyone.

Title IV is not simply a government funding stream to help people of limited means to afford a more expensive or exclusive institution.

In fact, the HEA was created for those who have formidable obstacles before them.

They might have performed poorly in high school or suffered from a lack of mentoring and family support. Many have served in the military. Others have decided to make a new start and pursue a degree while struggling simultaneously to work and tend to family responsibilities. Many are the first person in their family to pursue education and immigrants facing language and cultural obstacles.

The higher education institutions designed to meet their needs must, like the students they serve, be practical and results oriented while not sacrificing the content of an education.

We have seen first-hand how non-traditional schools are giving people from all walks of life what they need and we are convinced we need them as we rebuild our economy.

These schools offer flexibility that reflects the changing profile of people pursuing a degree. Higher Ed Connects noted 40 percent of those students are over 35, around 4.3 million undergraduate students are parents, and about 55 percent of these students are single parents, and 44 percent of student parents also work full time.

Adaptive learning online empowers students to advance to the next level of subject matter and skill proficiency as a practical approach for preparing for employment with the engagement of dedicated faculty. Amid the disruptions caused by COVID-19, these schools have long been innovators in remote learning.

The 100,000 plus Black-owned businesses affiliated with the NBCC are depending on all workers to restore economy vitality and we can ill-afford to limit educational opportunities for those just starting to push ahead, often against the odds.

Skeptics with outdated notions of non-traditional learning would undermine what works. We cannot affirm a public commitment to expand access to higher education while imposing draconian and inflexible requirements on the schools especially dedicated to serving those with the fewest resources and the most urgent need for education.

Foes of non-traditional education need to talk to some of the men and women we have encountered who completed their education on their own terms and set about seeking work opportunities with just as much success as students from traditional schools.

They need to talk to NBCC members who are ready to give strivers a chance.

In conclusion: We need all “hands on deck” to revitalize and reinvent our economy and a Higher Education Act that works for the people who need it most.

Mr. Alford is the co-founder, president/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Ms. DeBow is the co-founder and executive vice president of the Chamber. Website: www.nationalbcc.org; Emails: halford@nationalbcc.org; kdebow@nationalbcc.org.

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