2015 YWMC Institute for Members — Welcome

2015 YWMC Institute for Members

Welcome Remarks from Yes We Must Coalition President Gloria Nemerowicz

Who would have believed that when 11 maverick presidents met for a Yes We Must Summit in 2010 we would be here today, 5 years later, organized as a sector of higher education, uniquely positioned to contribute to reversing the inequality and inequity that have grown deeper and more pervasive in the past 40 years.

Are the 11 presidents who were in the room 5 years ago and said “Let’s move from Summit to Coalition” with us today? Please stand so we can thank you. And thanks too to the Yes We Must Coalition Directors who, in addition to guiding their own institutions through organizational highs and lows, give their time and talents to help guide Yes We Must: Jorge Diaz-Herrera from Keuka College, our Treasurer; Kathleen Ross from Heritage University, our Secretary; Vinton Thompson from Metropolitan College of New York; and Michael Sorrell from Paul Quinn College.

Today we are 39 members strong, located in 22 states. All our member institutions are nonprofit and independent, and all have a mission to deliberately intervene in the destructive outcomes of poverty by providing higher education to those grossly under represented and under educated.

Yes We Must Coalition members enroll over 75,000 undergraduates:

  • more than half of whom are African-American and/or Latino,
  • one third of whom are over the age of 24,
  • two thirds of whom qualify for Pell grant support, and
  • most of whom work, many full-time.

The portrait of our students is the portrait of America’s New Student Majority. We can no longer call them minority or non-traditional. They are our students. They are our future.

2015 YWMC Institute for MembersThe Yes We Must Coalition is the first organization in higher education to bring together colleges and universities based on the commonality of the economic reality of the students they serve, the commonality of negotiating life in a highly stratified society when, because of birth, you have the fewest and most inadequate economic resources. We know that other ascribed factors matter too, but the single most powerful predictor of the educational outcome for an individual in America is the socio-economic group into which he or she is born and raised. A caste-like system of inequality has frozen the opportunity structure for the majority of Americans.

That we should pay deliberate attention to a factor such as socio-economic status, a factor that lies outside of the academy, is a radical idea. In the past, students were told to come to college ready to learn and leave their personal life situations at the door. At least wealthy students were told this. The non-wealthy were told to try, but if they were deemed not “college ready,” their education would cost even more and take even longer. A pretty discouraging message.

We know that college-readiness needs to work both ways. Of course we want to improve secondary education and assure that appropriate classes and educational experiences are available to all students, but this focus on pre-college preparation must not let higher education off the hook. It is no longer a morally justifiable position, if it ever was, to wait passively for others to make students college ready, ready for us. We need to redirect that focus and work deliberately to make higher education ready for the students we must serve.

2015 YWMC Institute for MembersAnother radical idea is the one you have come here to pursue during the next three days — the idea that colleagues from different places and different institutions can come together with collaboration, not competition, on their minds. The idea that together we can do better for our students than we can do alone operating as closed, competitive silos is not just a good idea; it is an imperative if we are to improve our outcomes. We have a lot to teach and we have a lot to learn from one another. Together we can imagine new approaches, new structures and processes that we can try together in an environment of trust, honesty and support. You have created that environment during the past four years.

So, as you may have noticed from the agenda, this is not a conference where we get to pick and choose what to attend and engage in or whether just to take a walk around the hotel. We are here to work.

This opportunity would not have been possible without the dedication and persistence of the Institute Planning Committee:

  • John Bassett, President, Heritage University
  • Jorge Diaz-Herrera, President, Keuka College
  • William Hynes, President, Holy Names University
  • Mablene Krueger, President, Robert Morris University
  • Ann Landis, Executive Vice President and Provost, Thomas University
  • Michael Miller, Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs, Holy Names University
  • Tracy Parkinson, Provost, Coker College
  • Ginger Rodriguez, Vice President of Academic Affairs, Calumet College of St. Joseph
  • Andrew Sund, President, St. Augustine College

Three years ago The Kresge Foundation invested in the Yes We Must Coalition and provided us the opportunity to think about how we should organize, to learn from the experiences of other nonprofits committed to social justice, and to hold our first (and thus far only) national conference last year in Chicago. It was at that conference that the seeds for this Institute were sown, when those members in attendance began to talk about the areas they wanted to think and act together on.

Those three areas — creating pathways to completion that are responsive to the realities of poverty, creating effective financing for our students and our institutions, and integrating professional knowledge and preparation into the whole undergraduate experience — are where we are going to be focusing our work for the next three days.

The major sponsors of this Institute are Lumina Foundation, which provided funding to support two half-time employees to help organize the Institute and continue the outreach and advocacy work of the Coalition, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which provided funding so that teams from 34 of our member institutions could travel here, sleep here, eat here and work here. Thank you, Lumina and Gates. We could not and would not have done this without you.

The support of these major foundations comes because they recognize that an increase in the proportion of the American population with a college degree is an urgent national imperative, not just because education is a moral right but because our economy, our national security, and our democracy depend on an educated citizenry. That our country fell to 13th place among industrialized nations in the percentage of populations with post-secondary education is unsustainable. The improvement of college completion rates can only be achieved by identifying and removing the barriers for those who are not now represented in the going to, getting through and completion of college pipelines: the New Student Majority.

Support has come for our sector because we have organized and moved beyond a focus on our individual campuses to a focus on the students we have in common. It has come because we are not afraid to challenge the ways of the academy, to embrace a change, and to consider new ways to improve our outcomes. That is what we are doing here for the next three days. We are not just sharing best practices. We have been doing that since we organized. Most of us have developed really good practices in several areas recognized as important to student success. But, although we know in the words of my granddaughter, that “sharing is caring,” it is not enough.

Because of the trust and openness we have developed during the past four years, and because of the accumulated experiences we have had with the education of low-income people, we are ready to move ahead as partners in the quest to create new approaches, new structures, and new processes rather than as competitors in the quest for rankings.

2015 YWMC Institute for MembersYou are here to go beyond best practices, to develop collaborative approaches in which we share goals, share metrics, share frustrations and solutions during implementation and become a community for change. The Yes We Must Coalition, the organization you have created, will remain the lightening rod to keep the collaborative partners on task, seek resources to support your efforts and collect the data necessary so that we and others can learn from what you decide to do.

Let me finish by expressing my ongoing admiration for each of you. You have chosen to do really important work, and I know that all too often our institutions and the people who work with the students in them do not get the recognition they deserve. Still, you persevere because you know you are changing lives and, through collaboration, you can change systems and make a contribution to the goal of educational justice. Now let’s go to work!