By Dr. Darrin Q. Rankin, WGU Texas Former Chancellor
Black History Month is a time for remembrance and reflection, and this year, more so than ever. Over the past year, with COVID-19 and the brutal deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, the vastness of our country's racial disparities came to the surface.
While the tragic events of 2020 led many Americans to cultivate a greater understanding of racial equity issues, one area in particular still requires significant attention: higher education.
Our country is still making little progress in helping Black and Hispanic students attend and complete college. According to The Education Trust, Texas has one of the lowest degree attainment levels for Hispanic adults in the country, at less than 20 percent Moreover, the Center for American Progress reports that because of COVID19, college enrollment among Black Americans is sharply on the decline, which could have devastating impacts socially and economically for generations to come.
As the Lumina Foundation explains, "Inequities in higher education are inextricably linked to larger social forces," such as unemployment, excessive crime, nutrition deprivation and low performing K-12 schools.” Furthermore, a well-educated populace is necessary for the economic well-being of our state and country. With an ever-increasing diverse population, we must address the racial disparities to ensure we have a sustained workforce.
I was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana and have experienced racism firsthand. I know the pain and humiliation of discrimination. I've often had to challenge the status quo, have difficult and uncomfortable conversations in my workplace and community, and overcome resistance by committing to what's right and forging ahead with courage—no matter the cost.
I'm living proof of the power of education in personal transformation.
Education is the ultimate disruptor, the ultimate uplifter. I've devoted my life striving to ensure that other young men and women—particularly those of color and from lower-income backgrounds – have the opportunity to achieve their dreams, with the hope that one day they can do so with less resistance.
Access to affordable, quality education is imperative, which is why I was proud to join WGU Texas this fall, a nonprofit, accredited online university. I see it as a conduit for social and economic transformation because its unique competency-based platform is ideal for working adults, many of which are from underserved populations. I'm grateful for the opportunity to help change lives while also supporting our state's education and workforce goals.
As the 87th Texas Legislature begins its work this session, policymakers can help by supporting funding for need-based state financial aid programs, providing equitable access to these programs by adult learners who have been displaced by the pandemic and need to upskill or reskill, and supporting Governor Abbott’s emergency item to expand broadband access. Texas higher education institutions can also help by reaffirming their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and putting students first by meeting them where they are, better aligning learning with workplace needs, enhancing a tech-enabled learning environment, and offering more short, on-demand, industry-recognized credentials.
To quote fellow educator Marty Meehan, this month must be more than a retrospective: "It should be a tribute to our history and reminder of the work that lies in the months and years ahead." We have much work to do, work that is not just important to Black Americans but to all Americans, and I hope we can do it together.
A nationally and internationally recognized academician, published scholar, researcher, and administrator, Dr. Darrin Q. Rankin is Chancellor of WGU Texas and former Vice President of Student Success at Lone Star College. Rankin has a broad, diverse academic background in higher education—having served in eight higher learning institutions—and has over two decades of experience leading and evaluating initiatives like institutional diversity, equity, and inclusion.