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Our first class of HBCU student fellows

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A newsletter about role of higher education in society — plus Open Campus developments. By Sara Hebel and Scott Smallwood


An under-covered sector

We’re thrilled to welcome six student fellows who make up the first class of our new HBCU Student Journalism Network.

The fellows, who were chosen from a group of 60 applicants, will start in January. They are:

  • Auzzy Byrdsell, a junior studying kinesiology and journalism at Morehouse College
  • Brittany Patterson, a senior majoring in mass communications at Southern University and A&M College
  • Jasper Smith, a junior journalism major at Howard University
  • Skylar Stephens, a sophomore at Xavier University of Louisiana majoring in mass communication
  • Alivia Welch, a senior journalism and media studies major at Jackson State University
  • Tyuanna Williams, a junior majoring in mass communications at Claflin University

Through the paid reporting fellowship, these HBCU students will cover their campuses for regional and national audiences while exploring the trends affecting the entire sector. They also will participate in professional training and networking.

Among the topics they said they are most excited to cover are funding and enrollment trends, campus arts and sports cultures, and students’ and colleges’ roles in social justice.

“I am always trying to get better at using my voice effectively so I can use it to bring awareness to issues in the Black community,” Stephens wrote in her fellowship application, saying the program would give her experience, a platform, and guidance. “Highlighting what goes on in the HBCU community is a great start since there isn’t much coverage around HBCUs.”

Williams said the fellowship would help her tell the stories of her peers. And, she added:

“I believe that mainstream media has a blindspot when it comes to sharing positive Black news.”

Open Campus is partnering with Jarrett Carter Sr., a veteran journalist and the founder of HBCU Digest, to create the HBCU Student Journalism Network. He serves as the network’s editorial director. Wesley Wright, assistant director of student media at Florida Atlantic University and a former education journalist, is the assistant editor. 

The project is supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, Craig Newmark Philanthropies, and the Scripps Howard Fund. 

+ Have ideas? Interested in applying for the fellowship in the future? Get in touch at hbcu@opencampusmedia.org.

—Sara Hebel

Stories from the Central Valley

We’ve spent the year telling the stories of Californians who live in parts of the state where college-going has long lagged behind. For the latest installment, our rural reporter Nick Fouriezos travelled to the Central Valley to talk with people about their experiences with higher ed — and why college does or does not factor in their lives.

In California, more than one in three residents has a bachelor’s degree. But in many Central Valley counties, not even one in five do. The valley, in fact, is home to four of the six counties in the state where fewer than 15 percent of adults over 25 have a four-year degree.

Among the people Nick talked with are:

Margaret Salas, 68, who fulfilled her college dreams later in life.

“My parents were migrant workers from Texas who thought high school was enough,” she told Nick. “I was an honors student, but we were very sheltered. Without that emotional support, I was afraid.”

She now works in the counseling office at Merced College, where she earned her associate degree. She also has a bachelor’s degree in business from California State University, Stanislaus.

Trinaty Ann Renee, 28, a bartender in Visalia who takes classes part-time at College of the Sequoias. In general, she said, she thinks college is a scam.

“It costs an insane amount of money to get a degree, and then you aren’t going to be able to get a job with your degree. Now you’re in debt, and, nowadays, there are some entry- level jobs requiring master’s degrees and graduate degrees. I think it’s just another way for America to make something corporate.”

Jo Cook, 19, who switched majors to study art at the College of the Sequoias, even though her parents disliked the idea.

“I was working at Target during the holidays, and I was talking to an art teacher that had come through my lane,” she said. “She was buying stuff for her students, and we talked about art, and how much she loves her job. She had switched careers from something else into art, and she is so much happier, because she’s finally enjoying her passion, right? And I was like, dang, I really don’t want to do nursing.”

+ Read more of their stories here. And see the first and second parts of the series, which was supported by the College Futures Foundation.

Triple your donation

Through the end of today, donations to Open Campus of up to $1,000 will be tripled, thanks to our board of directors and a generous supporter. We’re grateful for your support of us and our work. Here’s where to give.

Elsewhere on Open Campus

In Cleveland, Amy Morona talks with colleges and students who are grappling with the toll the pandemic took on high-school learning. And in Colorado, Jason Gonzales reports on how a Colorado college hopes to give freshmen the skills they missed.

Also in Colorado, the state’s community colleges more than doubled their graduation rates from 2015 to 2020. Jason Gonzales examines what they changed.

In Mississippi, Molly Minta reports on Delta State and its complicated relationship with the region it serves. Whoever becomes its next president will face significant challenges, she writes, including deep cuts to state funding and plummeting enrollment that have strained the university’s budget. Over the last eight years, enrollment has dropped 29 percent at Delta State, faster than at any other public university in Mississippi.

With Indiana’s college-going rate at just 53 percent — the lowest in recent history — and pandemic shifts in learning, Ivy Tech Community College leaders changed the way they think about what students need and want, MJ Slaby writes. The college is trying out a new program to keep students on campus by making sure they have 10 specific habits.

In Pittsburgh, a group of seniors at Carnegie Mellon University spent months researching campus policing for a capstone project. Now, Emma Folts writes, they are pushing for change.

Happy holidays

This is the last edition of The Weekly Dispatch in 2022. Have a very happy holiday, and we’ll see you next year.

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