We are just a couple of weeks into 2024. I already feel overwhelmed with the number of responsibilities I have, which include leading Compton College and Compton Community College District, serving as the National Chair for Level-Up, and as the planning committee chair for Black Student Success Week (which is April 22, 2024, through April 26, 2024). At the same time, like many of my colleagues, I am worried about the state and federal budgets related to higher education and about how unaffordable education is for many students of color, particularly for Black Learners.
Unaffordability continues to be one of the primary reasons students opt out of pursuing a postsecondary education. In addition, student loan debt remains largely unforgiven. While earning a postsecondary credential is widely regarded as the best opportunity for economic and social mobility, students often find themselves struggling to justify a college education due to the significant increase in higher education’s price tag over the years. Furthermore, this issue affects students of color and low-income students disproportionately. Black college graduates owe an average of $25,000 more in student loan debt than White college graduates and are more likely to struggle financially due to student loan payments. Additionally, a recent analysis shows that students from the lowest income backgrounds need to contribute almost 150% of their household income to pay for full-time attendance at a 4-year college. Black learners and students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are being priced out of college, and recent enrollment declines clearly reflect this pressing issue.
Community colleges are uniquely positioned to address affordability in postsecondary education while offering valuable credentials that set students up for economic and social mobility. Students can often complete their first two years of college at significantly lower costs than attending a 4-year institution. Graduates who attended a community college can also expect to come out with much less student debt. Additionally, by offering more high-value short-term credentials that align with workforce needs, community colleges ensure greater employability for their graduates. By continuing to align program offerings and credentials with labor market needs while remaining affordable, community colleges can be strong engines of upward mobility.
My many responsibilities and my concerns about affordability for our students are important, but my most important responsibility is being the father to Kamilo Ali Curry. Kamilo turned 14 on January 24, 2024, and he is a gentle loving giant. At the same time, I must prepare Kamilo for college and take into account how I will pay for his post-secondary education. I am very mindful that my child is in a different position financially for higher education than many students of color and black learners. Kamilo has been very clear that he wants to attend a community college (Guess which one) and then transfer to a four-year college/university. I truly support this plan because I believe community colleges are incredible and affordable for our students and the community we serve. The financial planning for post-secondary education for students and parents should begin as early as possible and we can no longer wait till high school and even middle school to begin discussing college options and affordability.
I want to conclude this thought by sharing more about Kamilo Ali Curry, as he is my equity avenger superhero. I still remember June 3, 2020 when, at ten years old, Kamilo saved my life. (More on this in a future Unapologetic Leadership Thought). I cherish every day since then because I know tomorrow is not a promise. Now, as an unapologetic leader, I have a voice and the ability to act on issues that positively and negatively affect students. I wouldn’t be able to do this work if it wasn’t for Kamilo Ali Curry.
Kamilo is the most loving and caring person I have ever been around. He puts other people first, particularly his cousins (Shayan, Brandon, Ayva, Jayden, Audrey, Emmy, Noah, Hayleigh, Luke, Cienna, Walker, Hope, and Cierah). His cousins are his pride and joy, and he loves to be around his pops/old man (I hate when he calls me old). Being his father is my most important responsibility, and I know I must continue to display unapologetic leadership for him because one day, he will be a college president. I still remember hearing him say he wanted to be the president of Compton College at his preschool graduation. How many five-year-olds say that they want to be a college president? I was shocked, and at the same time, I knew that one day he would achieve this goal.
I might be his pops (or his old man, I can take it) but I am continually reminded that he is my teacher more than I am his. His heart inspires me and his drive to dream big motivates me to continue to serve the students of Compton College because really, any of our students could be Kamilo. And I dare to believe that every person should be able to access an affordable college education.