Now is the Time. Memphis is the Place.

Memphis Colleges and Universities

steven-aspire-hanleyAs a middle school principal of a charter school that believes college is certain for all of its students, I have been giving lots of thought to the higher education options available to those in the Bluff City. While they are fewer in number, the depth with which you can engage with those institutions in Memphis is significant. You just have to jump in. 

As the United States’ 24th largest city—only two spots lower than my hometown of Washington, DC, and one spot higher than that other Tennessee metropolis, Nashville—one could reasonably expect that there’d be a plethora of educational options for any and everyone to take partake in. But I remember reading this article a couple of years ago from The Atlantic that cited a study showing that only 11 percent of low-income students who are the first in their family to attend college will have a college degree within six years of enrolling in school. First generation college students are the students I served for a majority of my career, and the irony isn’t lost that with my hometown having 20 colleges and universities in a 10-square mile area that still many of them wouldn’t make it to and through college.

Though Memphis has several small colleges, the higher ed landscape seems to be defined by three institutions: Christian Brothers University, Rhodes College, and the flagship University of Memphis. You literally cannot go to any business or area of the city without being greeted by University of Memphis paraphernalia or an alumnus. These three schools are in relatively close proximity to each other, but definitely have their unique qualities that differentiate them from each other. Out of the three—I’ve only spent any amount of time on the campus of the University of Memphis, which is really is a beautiful campus that has so much to offer, including their First Scholars Program which is specifically for first generation college students.

steven at graduationI am a proud graduate of a historically black college and university (HBCU), so I would be remiss if I didn’t mention LeMoyne-Owen College, Memphis’ only HBCU. LeMoyne-Owen College has a rich history in providing education to the disenfranchised (i.e., those denied admission to predominantly white universities in the area), but has an even brighter future with the inauguration of their new president, Dr. Andrea Lewis Miller, on April 29th, and strengthening of their academic programs and offering.

Let’s face it. Once we are finished with our education, we rarely think about it again until we are supporting our alma mater during their sports seasons, attending an event like Homecoming, or get a phone call from them asking us to give back. But I have two things I want you to take away from this post:

  1. If you are considering a move to Memphis, know that you have a great educational options if you one day want to continue your education at any point you’re here. Whether you want to take the occasional refresher course at a community college, pursue your degree at your own pace online, or seek a graduate degree part-time or full-time, there definitely seems to be equitable access to education here in the city. With the couple of dozen choices (see the links below), discover your strength and new opportunities to gain more knowledge. Click on the links below to learn more about Memphis’ educational institutions.
  1. If you are satisfied with where you are at this point with your education, consider pouring into these local institutions so that well-deserving first generation college students have the opportunity to not only go to college, but to make it through college. In addition to the University of Memphis’ First Scholars program, I know there are similar at almost all the major universities here in Memphis. This isn’t just necessarily your dollars, but could be your time to mentor a first generation college student. Listen to them, the challenges they are experiencing, and offer your advice. As the son of a father who attended but didn’t graduate college and a mother who took longer than the traditional four years to finish college, I know first hand how it can make the difference.

So, as I continue to work to make sure the college is really certain and that our kids in Memphis are college and career ready, I’ll do so with a better understanding of what the options are for our students in our hometown. Of course we want to make sure that the world is their oyster and they have every opportunity to go to the best college of their choice. And so the next time that I put on my alma maters’—Virginia State University and Trinity Washington University—t-shirts, I’ll be thinking of this mission, Memphis, and the students that in just a few short years will be the first in their family to go to something that I now take for granted, which is my college experience.

I guess I need to get some University of Memphis or LeMoyne-Owen College gear soon!

What else am I up to? Keep up with my Year One adventures here.

What is Year One? Go here to read more.

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