On the Front Porch:  the Tassel is Worth the Hassle

“Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.”  Malcolm X

June is a month that holds a special place in the hearts of black folks.  Calendar days are filled with Juneteenth jamborees and Black Music Month merrymakings.  It is also the time of year for graduations—from pre-school to high school, as well as college.    Pomp and circumstance.   Mothers wear pumps. Fathers pump prideful fists due to the circumstances.  Class valedictorians deliver speeches that give validation to hard work.   In black communities many of these festivities stop after 12thgrade, however.  College matriculation is another subject. Literally.

For many, the idea of higher education is equivalent to issuing a self-administered colonoscopy exam—a lot of discomfort with no guarantee of a successful outcome.  But there is one distinct difference between a colonoscopy exam and college—higher education graduates are guaranteed to earn significantly more over their lifetime than their non-graduate counterparts. While only 19% of blacks were reported to have at least a bachelor’s degree in 2018, the number is rising. Specialty schools, baccalaureate programs, and colleges that primarily offer associate degrees—have seen black representation increase, sometimes dramatically.

This number may be bolstered even more due to the recent overture made by billionaire and Morehouse man Robert Smith.   It was Smith’s generous spirit and nostalgic nature that prompted his promise to repay the entire student loan debt accrued by the nearly 400 graduates of his alma mater’s Class of 2019.   His action has changed the lives of black families for generations to come, as the ability to start life with a college degree in one hand and no debt in the other, is huge.  For starters, it shifts the current paradigm that shows 72 percent of black students go into debt to pay for their educations, compared to 56 percent of white students, as reported by the U.S. Department of Education.

College educated individuals pursue careers, not jobs.  Those who pursue higher education don’t seek answers. They look for questions that have yet to be asked.   College graduates possess a toolkit of mental dexterity that can be snapped open amidst managerial meltdowns.  A good college education not only forces one to change the way he looks at the world; it causes the world they see to change.

It must not be forgotten, however, that the path toward the hallowed halls of higher education have not been traditionally paved in gold for students of color.  This fact was forced to the forefront by the recent college admissions scandal. The case shone a light on the racial and economic disparities that plaque access to higher education.  Rich kids have parents who utilize their bevy of bucks to pay for expensive college preparatory courses and on-call counselors, both of which give wealthy students an advantage in the increasingly competitive college admissions process.

Despite myriad challenges that face all college hopefuls, students of color who manage to fight their way onto college campuses, are often also forced to face double scrutiny.  Frequent qualifiers are made, something their white counterparts do not face. Affirmative action is asked about; privilege passes.   The admissions scandal had one benefit.  It placed hypocrisy’s long-held heyday in privileged communities in public view.  Invisible handshakes were revealed; helicopter parenting was put into reverse. But this dishonor has done little to impact those Americans whose pants aren’t lined with enough pennies to donate dollars for new buildings and endowed chairs.  Regardless, black students continue to hit pay dirt.  They take the mud life throws at them and use their college degree to plant the seeds of success.   Here’s how:

  • Happier Lives̶ Education opens doors both intellectually and intuitively, for career and life. Studies show that college graduates lead more stable, productive and happy lives.
  • Family Benefits—Higher-paying jobs that include benefits require a bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral or professional degree. The salaries can include health care, retirement opportunities, investments, and travel perks.
  • Job satisfaction—I call this one, the ‘no alarm clock’ life. As I share with my students, the difference between job satisfaction and job detestation is the need to set an alarm clock every night. When you love what you do, your body reflexively wakes itself every morning.  Higher incomes, employee benefits, and promotion opportunities usually equate to this inspired action.
  • Professional Purpose—Obtaining a college degree often requires people to put their personal mettle to the pedal. Whether dealing with financial problems or finicky professors, college matriculation is not for the faint of heart.

But just like any case where one stands in the shadow of victory after a challenge has been overcome, the benefits of a college education outweigh the obstacles.  The tassel is worth the hassle.

Shanita Baraka Akintonde is an award-winning author, podcaster, professional speaker, professor, wife, andmother propelled by love. Her second book, Leading from the Heart,was released in September 2018 and her third book, Hear Me ROARRis setfor release in Fall 2019.   Send your column ideas to    sakintonde@colum.edu.  You can also reach her on Linked Inat Professor Shanita Akintonde, www.linkedin.com/in/shanitaakintonde/. 


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