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Dr. J Delivers Keynote Address at ACCESS Luncheon

Norfolk State University President Dr. Javaune Adams-Gaston provided the keynote address at the ACCESS College Foundation’s annual luncheon recently held in Norfolk. Dr. J praised the organization for the work it does to get mostly first-generation students into college.

She explained that Norfolk State was ACCESS’ first college partner. And that over the 30-year partnership, ACCESS has helped more than 4,800 students enroll at Norfolk State. More than 700 ACCESS scholarships have been awarded to NSU students and 90% of the NSU students participating in the ACCESS College Success program have graduated.

“There’s a huge dividend in what you do in transforming the life trajectories of students throughout the Hampton Roads area and now beyond,” said Adams-Gaston. “You not only help the student, but you help transform the family tree for each of these students. That is changing the life and the world. Changing our society and making sure that when we say we’re committed that we actually do the things that bring that commitment to fruition.”

The president spoke about the role of higher education in workforce and economic development; the role that historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) continue to play in diversifying the 21st century workforce; and how the education community can work together with the community to create career-ready individuals.  

Education — The Great Equalizer

“While the world of work is rapidly changing,” said Dr. J, “we know that we have to do the things in higher education that move us more quickly and more nimbly to ensure that a college degree is not elusive.” She pointed to research that shows that higher education pays off in personal and professional development in the form of lifetime wages as well as a higher sense of satisfaction and security in the life experience of students. With just a four-year degree, college graduates earn almost double the lifetime earnings of high school students — $2.1 million compared to $1.2 million.

When it comes to historically black colleges and universities, they are just three percent of the nation’s higher education institutions, yet enroll 10% of all African American students and produce 20% of all African American graduates. And HBCUs outperform other institutions in retaining and graduating first-generation, low-income, African American students. “What happens at an HBCU is that you are part of a community,” Dr. Adams-Gaston said. “People reach out to you and ensure that you are on a path, and that path is toward greatness.”

A Model that Works

As the work world changes, students must be college educated and career ready.  “We must work toward the creation of a unified college and career-ready continuum — that is we want to enhance the workforce and economic development,” said Dr. J.  By working together and marshalling resources, students can have access to an affordable high-quality higher education, fully aligned with the needs of employers in the new economy as well as industry-aligned internships and certifications along the way toward graduation. “This is a tall order but not an impossible task,” Adams-Gaston said. “We have the model,” she said referring to ACCESS, which has over its 30 years helped nearly 70,000 local public high school students with enrolling in a certification or degree program while leveraging $625 million in financial aid and scholarships.

 “We often say that we don’t know what to do,” said Adams-Gaston. “We have models that work well, and ACCESS is one of those models.”

Learn more about ACCESS College Foundation here.