Postsecondary Success Notes | Combining realism, urgency, and hope

Combing realism, urgency, and hope
Colleagues, As we step more fully into this new year, I am grateful to Patrick for offering up the cover note of this month’s Postsecondary Success newsletter. I’d like to share some brief reflections on an address Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave in 1966 where he begins: There is a desperate and innocent poignant question on the lips of… millions of people all over our nation and all over the world… Are we really making any progress in race relations? This same exact question is just as relevant and poignant today. But it also makes sense to extend it to a question relevant to our Postsecondary Success work. Is higher education changing in ways that are making a difference for our focus students—Black, indigenous, and Latino students and students from low-income backgrounds? This year marks the 40th anniversary of the signing of the bill that gave us the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, an occasion to think about optimism in the face of these questions since, in this 1966 address, King spoke of the dangers of extreme optimism. And, of course, optimism is a core value of the Gates Foundation, one for which CEO Mark Suzman has recently signaled a shift—moving away from describing the foundation as impatient optimists in favor of another qualifier, that of realistic optimists. In this shift, there is a resonance with what King advises, and I think we should lean into King’s wisdom. An extreme optimist, King said, would declare, “we are making marvelous strides.” They might point to a near doubling over the last 50 years of the percentage of African Americans over the age of 25 who hold a bachelors or that the graduation rates of full-time students at HSIs, institutions that serve a significant proportion of Latino students, outpaces national average graduation rates by as much as 30 percentage points. These are indeed facts, but they do not tell the “total truth.” To stop there, we might be inclined to believe that progress would simply “roll in on the wheels of inevitability,” but that is never how progress is made. There is another perspective—that of the extreme pessimist. They would see only how much further we have to go. They might cite the nearly 15 percentage point gap in rates of access to broadband between indigenous peoples and others, a significant barrier to accessing digital learning, or the differential impact of the cost of higher education with over a third of families in the lowest quartile of net worth having student debt that is on average over $10,000 more than the just over one in twenty students in the top 10% that have student debt. King points out the rather ironic way in which these extremists agree—“to do nothing.” In one of his most memorable critiques, he condemns inaction: …it may well be that we will have to repent… not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people,… but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say wait on time… [Progress] comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals... And without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation. To disrupt systems that perpetuate inequity, it is “necessary to develop massive action programs.” I think King’s guidance is to combine a realism about the issues and an urgent commitment to inclusive action with a deep sense of hope for the future. This is a version of optimism that resonates with me, and I believe it affirms the Postsecondary Success team’s goals and those of our partners for 2023 and beyond.


Garikai Campbell
Deputy Director, Strategy, Planning, and Management


Partner Spotlight: UNCF Institute for Capacity Building

Transforming policies and practices to better support student success isn’t easy – and it’s even harder when done in isolation. That is why networks such as the UNCF Institute for Capacity Building (UNCF ICB) are so critical to driving transformation efforts in campuses across the country. Since 2016, 42 Black colleges and universities have joined ICB’s transformation network to advance institutional priorities, representing a mix of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and predominantly Black institutions (PBIs). Last November, UNCF ICB announced that 12 institutions would participate in ICB’s transformation network as a cohort in the HBCU Transformation Project. With support from Blue Meridian Partners, the HBCU Transformation project is a “first-of-its-kind collaboration….to build the capacity of HBCUs and intermediaries that serve them to create permanent improvement in their ability to achieve economic mobility outcomes for their primarily Black students and communities in the Southeast and beyond.” Learn more about this exciting work at UNCF ICB’s newly launched website,






Quick Takes


“Sticky Facts” for Why College Completion Matters

The bipartisan agreement in Congress to increase college completion and retention grants for FY23 demonstrates a shared commitment to getting more students to AND through college. To understand why college completion continues to be a pressing national priority, our friends at Third Way have updated their “Sticky Facts” infographic to help put the broad impact of college completion in context. Find the graphic here.


CUNY Officially Bids Adieu to Remedial Education

Research shows that while traditional developmental education policies and practices may be well intended, they too often underestimate students’ abilities and end up stranding them in non-credit remedial courses while sapping their financial aid, resulting in high dropout rates. Since 2016, The City University of New York (CUNY) has been transitioning to a corequisite model, which offers courses for credit and includes extra academic support. This month, CUNY announced that they have officially phased out remedial math and English courses, which is good news for students. Why? “Since CUNY began corequisite adoption, the percentage of first-year associate-degree students who earned math credit in their first two semesters rose from 36% in 2016, when the transition began, to 50% in 2020.”