It’s been said that one of the greatest investments a person can make is in his or her education.
As an African-American who grew up in a working-class neighborhood in an outer borough of New York City, I’ve seen for myself how life-changing an education can be. It has the power to place you on a path of rich opportunities and experiences.
My path began at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, where I left after one year to enter the financial services industry. Despite my success in business, I knew that having a bachelor’s degree would unlock a few more opportunities for me. So, what did I do? I enrolled in night school at New York University and attained a bachelor’s degree. Not completely satisfied with that, I went on to earn a master’s degree in business administration from Cornell University.
As I sought to realize our nation’s promise of socioeconomic opportunity, I have often thought about a political hero who inspired me in my youth. He inspired me with the idea that struck me hard as an impressionable youth: that with the proper education, motivation, and support, any individual has it in him or her to be an entrepreneur. And entrepreneurs, in turn, dream up big ideas, start businesses, create jobs, add value to communities and so on.
That person was Ronald Reagan. And I was fortunate enough to have come of age during his presidency when he helped create the kind of economy that allowed me and others of my generation to pursue our dreams.
Luckily for Americans, we now have a president who is also making such opportunities available much the same way that Reagan did: smart economic stewardship.
First, President Trump’s administration boasts of a soaring economy. The president’s tax cut and jobs legislation, which has helped millions of Americans, included new Opportunity Zone incentives to promote investment in low-income communities across the country — which positively impact the lives of millions of people. Shortly after, the poverty rate for African-Americans reached its lowest level ever recorded, and we are poised to reach new a standard of empowerment.
Then, in 2018, unemployment levels for African-Americans fell to a record low of 5.9 percent, along with record lows in Asian-American and Hispanic unemployment. These record numbers highlight a Trump economy with five million new jobs and a strong labor market that indiscriminately provides gainful employment for all Americans.
Amid our national economic resurgence, working-class Americans are more empowered to attend college and vocational training institutions than the generations before them. Moreover, African-Americans are frequently turning to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to close an education gap: Census data from 2015 shows that while the African-American high school graduation rate is on par with white Americans, the gap widens to a stark contrast of over 10 percent for bachelor’s degree graduates.
Among African-Americans, 2016 statistics show 81 percent of all completed bachelor’s degrees come from HBCUs, where African-Americans make up 77 percent of the student population. Clearly, HBCUs are working for the black community and should be a focus of academic investments.
In addition to providing an invaluable college campus experience for post-high school graduates, many HBCUs have online degree programs to accommodate the growing population of adult students. I, too, was a non-traditional college student and it was gratifying to attain a degree later in life. Now, I’m a proud member of the adjunct faculty at Hampton University — University College’s online degree programs to help adult students achieve academic success.
Our president recognizes the importance of HBCUs; he signed legislation increasing federal funding to HBCU programs by more than 14 percent. He also established the White House Initiative on HBCUs to provide equitable opportunities to participate in federal programs, and increased funding for school choice to better prepare young students before they enter college.
Additionally, the president’s HBCU initiative provided full forgiveness of $322 million of hurricane relief loans to four HBCUs that were severely impacted by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita that ravaged Gulf Coast states in 2005 resulting in considerable damage to the academic institutions.
These executive actions convey how important HBCUs are to our country’s history and the future. Today we celebrate the unprecedented access that working-class Americans have to post-secondary education, thanks to prudent policies and a pro-growth agenda. The economy remains supportive, and the opportunities are there for the taking. Now, it is up to us to seize the opportunity to uplift the least among us to reach their full potential.
John Burnett is the Managing Director and Founder of 1 Empire Group consulting firm and a business executive with over 20 years of experience in the financial services and energy pricing industries. A veteran of politics, John is an official with the New York State Republican Party and ran for New York City Comptroller in 2013. An adjunct professor at Hampton University and New York University, John’s editorials on business, the economy, policy, and politics have appeared in HuffPost, U.S. News and World Report, and Washington Examiner. He is also a frequent guest commentator on Fox News, Fox Business News, New York 1, and PIX 11 News. John holds a B.S. with honors from New York University and an MBA from The Johnson School of Management at Cornell University. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.