The Dream Maker: The Significance of the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) - OP-ED, by Leadra M. Collins

Posted by painewebmaster | 08/6/2014 10:15 AM

I bet you didn’t know that Disney World and the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) have something in common?  Well, believe it or not, they do.  Just like Disney World, the UNCF makes dreams come true.  Believe me, the UNCF made mine come true.

During the UNCF’s 70 years of existence, the organization has provided over $4 billion in scholarships to help more than 400,000 students realize their dreams by earning degrees across the country.  My dream came true in 2003.  As a product of a single parent home, I remember the day my mother and I discussed my matriculation at Fisk University.  Before the government implemented cuts to Parent Plus Loans, she said, “I’ll do whatever I can to get you there, but I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to do after that”.  So I enrolled in Fisk University, and I worked hard to stay there.  UNCF was that vessel, serving the educational needs of students like me who would not have had an opportunity to get the education they needed.  

Historically, since 1882, Paine College has played a very unique role in the nation’s educational environment by preparing generations of educators, doctors, lawyers, scientists, community leaders, and other professionals who have made significant contributions in the country’s workforce.  Based on testimony rendered during a U.S. Senate hearing by UNCF President and CEO, Dr. Michael L.  Lomax, “HBCU’s are a “best buy” for students and the nation”.  This is why it is important for us to continue to support UNCF because it continues to supports us.

Just like other majority institutions, Paine College has faced fiscal challenges which are in part due to recent reductions in federal funding.  Paine College and other HBCU’s across the nation have experienced reductions of more than $250 million in Parent Plus Loans, Pell Grants, and other sources of critical federal funding.   Paine College students rely upon Pell Grants and Parent Plus Loans like thousands of students throughout the country. These drastic cuts have resulted in major financial crises for many of our institutions.  Even in the midst of the nation’s economic woes, UNCF has worked diligently to support educational resources and scholarships for its member institutions.  UNCF gives approximately $100 million in scholarships annually to over 12,000 students.  This demonstrates just why UNCF is significant to HBCU’s like Paine College.  The UNCF, just like Paine College, helps to even the playing ground and offers access to a quality education to deserving students.

In the last few years and as the economy weakened, Paine College, like many colleges and universities, has witnessed an exodus of students due to the lack of resources.  I found myself in that same predicament during my tenure at Fisk University, but I was awarded an UNCF scholarship that changed my life and helped to charter a successful course towards earning my bachelor’s degree.  Had it not been for the support I received from UNCF, I would not be able to proudly say that I am a college graduate.  UNCF answered my call for help then, and in 2009, it answered the call for help from others by establishing the Campaign for Emergency Student Aid which has raised over $20 million to pay outstanding tuition fees so that students could remain in school and graduate.  

Because of UNCF, today I am proud to say that I am Director of Development for Paine College and the Coordinator for the Augusta UNCF Campaign.  For 132 years, Paine College has been the “gateway to the world” where students can “get anywhere from here”.  It is my hope that Paine will remain in the community for another 132 years with the continued support of UNCF and people who believe as I do that “a mind is a terrible thing to waste, but a wonderful thing to invest in”.