Since fall 2022, I have had the pleasure of working with HCM Strategists, Achieving the Dream, Equity Avengers, Lumina Foundation, and now with ECMC Foundation to address and promote Black Learner Excellence in higher education. Some might wonder why this is suddenly important to me. The truth is, I have been promoting Black Learner Excellence since I was 19 years old when, as an undergraduate student, I created the Destination Higher Education Program for admitted African American students at the University of California, Santa Cruz. At that time, I didn’t understand the research and the data around Black student enrollment and achievement in higher education. I only knew that there were very few Black students in my classes and at events on campus, and often, I felt alone.

I serve as the chair of both the National Panel on Black Student Enrollment and the Black Student Enrollment Expert Advisory Committee for Leveraging Explicit Value for Every Black Learner, Unapologetically (LEVEL UP). I know many leaders want to see Black students succeed, but don’t know where to start, or need other forms of encouragement and support. These leaders need tools, research, data, and best practices to begin implementation or to continue their work at a higher education institution, as state and federal policymakers, and as community and business leaders.

We all know that in 2024, Black student enrollment remains a critical issue that all stakeholders must have a hand in addressing. Even as overall enrollment numbers climb back to pre-pandemic levels, Black learner enrollment is increasing but at a slower pace. Undergraduate enrollment grew 1.2 percent this past fall, the first increase since the pandemic. However, Black student enrollment only increased by 0.7 percent in fall 2023, leaving enrollment numbers well behind pre-pandemic numbers (approximately 150,000 students lost). Considering the alarming statistics highlighted in the 2023 LEVEL UP report, we are far off from recovering the 600,000 Black learners lost in American higher education over the past 20 years.

Reinforcing the shared ownership component emphasized in the LEVEL UP report, we are excited to release It’s Time to Get Real: A Playbook to Demand Black Learner Excellence. The report made clear that the onus is not on Black learners; accordingly, the playbook serves as a tool for all relevant stakeholders to use in their respective realms to promote change in the systems that act as barriers to Black learner success and to elevate and empower Black student voices. The key players highlighted in the playbook are state and federal policymakers, higher education institutions, and community and business leaders. The playbook focuses on the following four priority areas identified in the LEVEL UP report: 

  • REAL Transparency and True Affordability
  • Ensured Success Through Shared Ownership
  • Academic and Social Supports that Create a Sense of Belonging
  • Learner-Centered Teaching Practices for Black Learners

Stakeholders are urged to review sections of the playbook that are most relevant to them and set actionable plans based on the recommendations and strategies. It is also important to consider partnerships and collaborative efforts that will improve implementation while elevating the work. Leaders must unapologetically lead the movement in changing the systems that shut Black learners out and empower Black learner voices to the extent that they can no longer be ignored.

We are providing you with the playbook right now. Now it’s your time to decide if you are all in on Black Learner Excellence or if you are standing on the sidelines. That’s the question students, educators, advocates, allies, community leaders, business leaders, and elected officials should ask themselves as we address this state of emergency. We need more unapologetic leaders to join us in this movement, so please utilize the playbook and join the movement by visiting our LEVEL-UP Resource and Pledge page:

Please visit to download your copy of It’s Time to Get Real: A Playbook to Demand Black Learner Excellence.