VOICES: Community unity is key for equitable access to education

“Oh, the places you’ll go!” the iconic Dr. Seuss book that is a mainstay in many elementary school libraries describes the opportunities and challenges we as a community must confront in order to move forward.

My daily commute across Butler County takes me through several communities with distinct identities. These growing Butler County communities are attracting new families and businesses. However, this positive experience is not necessarily shared by all. While many communities continue to thrive, within them, a large subset of residents cannot fully share in that progress and success; and endure poverty and all the negative by-products associated with it.

One of the driving factors for the “differences” we see across communities in Butler County is a powerful tool for upward economic mobility; higher education. Our relationship with higher education impacts our communities, earnings, health outcomes, and, most importantly, our collective future.

Census data for Butler County supports the Bureau of Labor Statistics findings that “individuals with a higher level of education typically earn more and have lower rates of unemployment than individuals who have less education.” That same data backs Forbes’ report that, on average, a person with a bachelor’s degree earns almost $23,000 more annually than someone with a high school diploma. However, the numbers are alarming when we dig down and look closely at our communities’ educational attainment and socioeconomic status. We must do better. More importantly, it is our ethical responsibility to do better.

It is time for all of us in our region to unite for our children and the generations that follow because change and its impacts will not be immediate. No longer should post-secondary education be for select individuals who come from sufficient or near sufficient means. Instead, we must promote and provide greater access to higher education so people can make informed decisions about their futures. If we don’t or if we won’t, then who will?

For over 50 years, Miami University Regionals has offered our community the open access opportunity to earn a degree or credential and reap the benefits that flow from their accomplishments. We remain dedicated to our pursuit of providing learners the opportunity to receive an accessible, affordable, and relevant education. We serve every student that enrolls with us regardless of background.

We hear from those who decry the cost of higher education. Yet, many are unaware that low-income students in our community can earn their college degree while incurring no tuition cost through need-based financial aid. For example, this year’s tuition and fees at Miami Regionals are $7,072, while a full Pell grant is $6,895.

To increase student opportunities, we created the Early College Academy that enables students to complete high school requirements while accumulating credits toward a Miami associate degree. As a result, they will graduate with both a high school and a university diploma - and be halfway to a bachelor’s degree - at no cost to them or their families.

As a community, let’s begin by setting the goal of doubling our college-going and completion rates across the county. Then, let’s work together to increase access and opportunities for students of all ages. Finally, let’s become the most educated county in the state.

I believe in our community. I am confident we are raising the brightest and best; individuals who will stay here and address our region’s talent needs. Each and every young person has potential. We have the moral imperative to ensure they have options and every opportunity to reach their full potential.

Then think of the places we’ll go.

Dr. Ande R. Durojaiye is the Vice President and Dean of Miami University Regionals.

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