VOICES: A university and community restoring faith in higher ed

Terrera Hellman was the first in her family to graduate from high school. She never thought a four-year degree was possible. Now, she’s one of the first students in the University of Dayton’s Kessler Scholars Program, pursuing degrees at Sinclair Community College and UD with a network of support.

Jasmine Roberts sent a simple email. From that outreach, she accessed the resources she needed from the Greater West Dayton Incubator to launch her math tutoring business, JAZ Crew. And, with it, she realized her dream of becoming an entrepreneur.

The next generation of individuals committed to health equity are coming through UD. The former Montgomery County fairgrounds has a new purpose. And the Dayton Arcade is alive again with hundreds of students and small businesses.

These examples embody the promise of higher education — to change people’s lives and anchor communities.

Last month, we celebrated how UD is delivering on that promise. The university was named one of 28 American Talent Initiative and Bloomberg Philanthropies “high-fliers” for progress and leadership in enrolling, supporting and graduating more students from lower-income backgrounds. UD is the only college and university in Ohio and among Catholic schools to receive the distinction, joining Ivy League institutions, public flagships and national liberal arts colleges.

When students with lower incomes attend a high-graduation-rate school, like UD, they are more likely to earn a degree, which means higher wages, better job prospects, and more favorable health and other outcomes over their entire lives.

UD is a high-flier because of incredible gains in the number of Pell-grant eligible students — even during the COVID-19 pandemic. In seven years, the university has increased Pell enrollment by 50%. About one in five incoming students qualify for the federal need-based grant.

During our high-flier celebration, we met with several Flyer Promise Scholar students. The Flyer Promise program identifies high-achieving students from lower-income backgrounds and removes financial barriers to a four-year education. Support extends throughout their undergraduate careers in the form of mentoring and leadership development opportunities. As a result, about 88% of Flyer Promise Scholars graduate in four years, nearly double the 47% national graduation rate.

We learned about the unique benefits of the UD Sinclair Academy through the eyes of students like Terrera. As Sinclair President Steve Johnson recently said, the Academy is “helping more students to learn more, faster, at less cost.” More than 280 Academy students now simultaneously enroll at both institutions from day 1 and can enter more than 100 pathways to a UD degree. They join research teams with UD faculty, join UD clubs and use UD facilities — all while taking classes at Sinclair.

And the University’s commitment to its home city has never been more visible — from advancing health equity through the Fitz Center to bringing commercial life back to the Arcade through the Hub Powered by PNC. Now, more than 500 students take classes every week alongside about 150 member companies. That engagement in the urban core “means the world to us,” City Manager Shelley Dickstein said during a recent tour.

And it means the world to UD.

When we rely on the core Marianist traditions of valuing community, educating the whole person, and respecting the dignity of all people, we uplift our towns and cities. And, when we commit to our communities, we strengthen our students’ experiences. Talent is everywhere. It’s only when you look at opportunity that you find a gap.

UD is proud to fly high. We hope colleges and universities nationwide are inspired to join us and give talented students from every zip code and income background the opportunity they deserve.

Credit: Daniel Bayer 2017

Credit: Daniel Bayer 2017

Daniel R. Porterfield is president and CEO of the Aspen Institute, which co-manages the American Talent Initiative (ATI).

Eric F. Spina is president of the University of Dayton.

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