The following op-ed was published in the Courier Journal on June 22 and authored by Evolve502 Executive Director Marland Cole, Evolve502 Board Chair Audwin Helton and Evolve502 Scholarship Foundation Board Chair Mary Nixon.
We will provide the caring, belief, access and supports each student needs to achieve and succeed and will work to remove and mitigate the systemic barriers of poverty and institutional racism.
Evolve502 needs to look no further than our bold mission statement to understand the role our organization plays in addressing the systemic barriers to a successful, productive life for ALL in this community.
These barriers have left large swaths of our community, primarily Black people, behind for far too long. For generations of African Americans, access to the promise of higher education has been limited or wholly denied. Post-Civil War segregationist policies laid the foundation for the legal exclusion of Black people from colleges. It also allowed similar statutes — such as the Day Law in Kentucky, which prohibited white and Black students from attending the same school — to survive until the mid-1950s.
More subtle means of exclusion also existed. The GI Bill of 1944 was perhaps the single greatest expansion of access to postsecondary education and home ownership in American history, but because racist policies and practices were in place, African American veterans found it difficult or nearly impossible to take advantage of the benefits they had earned.
These examples of intentional and systemic racist practices are why Evolve502 is dedicated to equity in our actions. We stand alongside all those fighting for justice and equitable treatment for our Black community.
We, along with our partners, focus on how we can create the change we want to see in our community. Together, under the umbrella of Evolve502, we’re committed to improving education and postsecondary attainment as part of the systemic change Louisville needs to create a more equitable future.
We use three strategies to drive our work:
Systems — We take a systems view, using data and best practices to identify gaps along the pathway to student achievement and success and work directly with organizations to implement solutions.
Scholarships — We are raising $50 million so that every eligible JCPS graduate can get a tuition-free, two-year college degree, technical credential or workforce certification at any Kentucky Community or Technical College, or at Simmons College of Kentucky, our city’s historically black college. Our scholarship also includes opportunity grants for those graduates from families with incomes less than $40,000 to assist with expenses outside of tuition. An announcement about our first class of scholars will be made in August.
Supports — We are convening and organizing partner agencies to implement wrap-around services and supports to ensure that every child in our community has the tools and guidance needed from cradle to career.
We know our work is critical now more than ever.
- Louisville is currently ranked 11 out of 16 peer cities in postsecondary attainment.
- The percentage of JCPS graduates attending college dropped more than 10% between 2009 and 2019.
- Cost is the No. 1 factor in students not pursuing postsecondary education.
- The in-state college going rate is 53.9% for white students, 49.1% for Hispanic/Latino students and 46.2% for African American students.
Our efforts to provide scholarships will bring a huge return on investment:
- Equity in access to postsecondary education, allowing for the pursuit of associate degrees, career credentials, or for some students, a pathway to a four-year degree
- A larger, diverse, educated workforce to attract and maintain businesses
- Higher employee salaries that lead to increased local spending and taxes paid.
- A workforce more insulated to challenging economic times — unemployment rates decline as education levels increase.
An associate degree holder will earn $422,000 more than a high school graduate over a lifetime, according to the Kentucky Council on Post-Secondary Education, and will earn 40 times the investment they make in obtaining the degree. Investing in our children through scholarship opportunities can be transformational.
More importantly, this investment corrects an injustice that’s long been occurring in our community and across the nation. Our scholarships and commitment to students provide a real opportunity to free our youth and their families, especially our Black youth, from neglect and hopelessness and creates a community where ALL citizens can prosper and contribute to the economic vitality of our city.
We cannot rebuild our economy or provide true hope and opportunity for our young people without investing in their future through education. Metro Government has been asked and is considering a $2.5 million investment to support scholarships through Evolve502 that will provide students with access to career credentials and workforce certifications to compete and be prepared for the jobs of the future.
If we are going to truly address the inequities in our community and make the systemic changes necessary to right the wrongs of our past, we need government, the business/corporate community and individuals to step up and provide the funding necessary to make this scholarship opportunity a reality. Together, let’s be the change we want to see. The time is NOW to make this critical investment for our community to truly grow, thrive and heal.