March 27, 2012

Church leaders speak highly about 55,000 degrees initiative

By James El-Mallakh–

On Saturday, March 17, multiple pastors spoke at the Louisville Urban League’s annual Education Summit, an open forum that invites the community to discuss issues impacting youth in Jefferson County.

“Where we are is not where we should be,” said Reverend Dr. Kevin Cosby, pastor of the St. Stephen church, when referencing educational attainment of the African American community.

Rae Helton, a lecturer in the U of L office of community engagement, said “When we looked at [greater Louisville project data] by race, only 14 percent of African Americans had degrees. That placed us at the bottom of the list in comparison to our 15 competitor cities.”

During this year’s summit, the church leaders spoke highly about the 50k initiative, also called 55,000 degrees, which is a program started by Mayor Jerry Abramson that sets the goal of increasing Louisville’s number of college degree holders to 50 percent of the population by the year 2020. Part of the 55k initiative is to increase the number of black degree holders in Louisville by 15,000, as part of the overall attainment goal of 50,000 degrees.

Reverend Cosby helps educate the St. Stephens church community about the 50k initiative.

Erica Lee, a freshman accounting major with a minor in international business at U of L and a member YMCA Black Achievers program, said, “The 55,000 degree initiative has given me more motivation it’s kind of said ‘hey Kentucky needs to step up’ and I can be a part of that, I can be one more and… I can influence others to go to school and get their degree as well.”

55,000 degrees goals are to create a college-going culture, use businesses to accelerate degree attainment, prepare students for success in college, make higher education accessible and affordable and increase educational persistence.

The trend of adults earning college degrees is going up. As Mary Gwen Wheeler, the executive director of 55,000 degrees puts it, “we’re making really exciting and significant progress but we are not yet on track to reach that goal, we must accelerate our level of college going and college completing behavior.”

Since before the 55,000 initiative was passed, Louisville had been making progress in increasing its number of adult degree holders, despite the number of Black degree holders showing a slower rate of growth than the rest of the population.

The 55,000 degree initiative also depends on bringing back a large number of adult college students who left college and never completed their degree. According to Rae Helton there are currently not enough students going to school in the “education pipeline” to fill the 55,000 degree quota.

“As a community we will not thrive and compete in the global marketplace unless we have a highly educated and skilled workforce,” said Helton.

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Photo courtesy 55,000 Degrees

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