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A Season for Celebration and Reflection

June 07, 2023

Dear ECMC Foundation Community,

Across our nation, colleges and universities are hosting commencement, a time-honored tradition for celebrating new college graduates, recognizing the support and sacrifices of their families, and reflecting on the promise of a higher education for individuals and communities. This week, I will have the honor of delivering the commencement address to the National University (NU) class of 2023. NU’s commitment to serving today’s students through a whole human frame is well aligned with the values of ECMC Foundation. We believe that with the right policies, programs and supports, all students can realize these awe-inspiring achievements.

Throughout my preparation for this commencement, I reflected on my own educational journey and how my lived experience likely mirrors that of countless students: who are the first in their families to graduate from college, who are students of color and for whom a college degree presents their greatest hope for a life freed from the jaws of poverty. NU’s commencement also comes on the heels of completing my first 100 days at ECMC Foundation―an important milestone in my own journey, which began as a young migrant farmworker so many years ago to now leading as a humble servant at a preeminent foundation in postsecondary education.

There’s so much to celebrate with this year’s commencements. Nearly 3.4 million associate and bachelor’s degrees are being conferred across the nation. Students from all backgrounds are on the path to economic and social mobility with their credentials in hand. Many have overcome great odds and formidable barriers. We at ECMC Foundation are proud of their accomplishments, and they and their families are most certainly even prouder.

Commencement brings to light the urgency behind ECMC Foundation’s work and our intent to double down on our investments to overcome persistent inequities. For too many students, a college credential is still out of reach. The population of Americans with some college credits and no degree has risen to 40.4 million, with 2.3 million of them recently deciding to leave their studies. We see an overrepresentation of Black, Hispanic and Native American adults in this population. Where have these students gone? Until we achieve transformational change across the postsecondary ecosystem, we can expect this troubling cycle to continue.

Higher education, policymakers and philanthropic partners share a responsibility to reengage adults with some credit and no degree and work tirelessly to ensure that we curb the growth of this troubling trend.

Nationally, white students at public colleges are two and a half times more likely to graduate than Black students and 60% more likely to graduate than Hispanic students. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the percentage of adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher is 41% for the non-Hispanic white population, 28% for the Black population, 61% for the Asian population and 20% for the Hispanic population. Without a credential, Americans are missing out on wealth, health and contributing more fully to their communities.

During the pandemic, college graduates were far more likely to avoid unemployment than their counterparts with no college or some college and no degree. Generally, unemployment rates decrease by education level.

The impacts of a college degree pass down from one generation to the next. In the U.S., one in five children live in poverty. The majority of children in low-income families have parents without any college education.

These realities of inequity exist against the backdrop of a pending U.S. Supreme Court decision that is expected to have real ramifications for the field of higher education and specifically for students from underserved backgrounds. We may not know the true implications of the High Court’s decision for months or even years to come, but we do know that the current inequities in college degree attainment will only exacerbate with efforts that effectively ebb students of color from college admission.

Ultimately, we want to realize a redesign of the postsecondary educational experience to better serve today’s students. As proponents of a fair, equitable, just and accessible higher education system, we cannot lose sight of the promise of a more perfect union—and what education means for our society and our shared values.

At ECMC Foundation, we believe in the grand possibilities of postsecondary education and the potential every student represents. We’re fortunate to partner with extraordinary organizations, institutions and systems trying to change that status quo.

From our Men of Color and Single Mothers Student Success Initiatives to our work on basic needs insecurity, transfer efficacy and more, we operate at some of the most crucial intersections of student needs and student success.

As I wrap up my first “semester” at ECMC Foundation, I remain optimistic about what’s ahead—and about the magnificent achievements our students and partners are pursuing as we look toward an exciting future.

In service to students and community,

Jacob Fraire
President, ECMC Foundation

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