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March 18, 2022

For more than 54 years, Northern Kentucky University has been a steward of place, bringing the dream of higher education and the promise of a meaningful life and fulfilling career to this region. That mission has evolved into a focused commitment to drive economic and social mobility amongst our students.

Now more than ever, it is time for us to commit to creating opportunity with real outcomes in Greater Cincinnati because no matter your background, everyone should have what they need in life to grow, learn and thrive.

Simply put, we must be intentional in our work to facilitate a region in which everyone has access to the American Dream of opportunity and intergenerational mobility. Unfortunately, opportunity isn’t equal – it depends on who you are and where you live. For people of color and for those from low-income backgrounds, the ideal of the American Dream is in doubt.

Opportunity Insights, a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization located at Harvard University, recently found that only half of the nation's children today grow up to earn more than their parents. For children born in the 1940s, that number was more than 90%.

This suggests that intergenerational mobility is slipping, and younger generations are facing lesser opportunities for success and upward mobility. This is especially true for children growing up in families of color which have limited intergenerational wealth and social capital.

Judith Rodin – former head of the Rockefeller Foundation and former president of the University of Pennsylvania – said, “Cities and metro regions will be defined by the quality of the ideas they generate, the innovations they spur and the opportunities they create for the people in the region.”

There has been a great deal of research about the value of diversity in driving innovation. Coqual, a New York nonprofit research think tank, looked at the question of what it takes to win in the global marketplace. For virtually all companies, regardless of sector, competitive strength and market growth depends on innovation. But what drives serial innovation is a diverse workforce that’s led by leaders who “cherish difference, embrace disruption, and foster a speak-up culture.”

Inclusive leaders effectively “unlock” the innovative potential of an inherently diverse workforce, enabling companies to innovate and foster economic growth. Leaders who have acquired diversity — whose background and experience have conferred on them an appreciation for difference, whether that difference is rooted in gender, age, culture, socioeconomic background, nationality, or sexual orientation — are significantly more likely to behave inclusively than leaders who lack it.

Companies that harness both innate diversity in their workforce and acquired diversity in leadership are measurably more innovative than companies that fail to harness these drivers.

That is, in part, why NKU’s Success by Design strategic framework lays out a vision of being a student-ready, regionally engaged university that empowers diverse learners for economic and social mobility.

When an organization is intentional about creating opportunity and its leadership team is diverse and committed to equity and inclusion, the performance of that organization is superior to others. Many area companies, including Duke Energy, Fifth Third Bank and the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, are doing excellent work in this realm.

At NKU, we have been working to create a diverse, equitable and inclusive campus.  We have great partners within the region who have similar intentions, making our region an attractive destination. 

For example, NKU is facilitating the emergency certification of diverse educators using a grant from Kentucky’s Council for Postsecondary Education. This partnership includes the diverse student populations of Erlanger/Elsmere, Newport and Covington Independent school districts, focusing on middle- and high-school teachers. Our previously established partnerships with Cincinnati State, Gateway Community, and local school districts increase opportunities to pursue higher education throughout the region.

NKU also partners with St. Elizabeth Healthcare in a number of ways, including SoCap Accelerate — a startup accelerator to foster young companies that can address some of the region's biggest health needs for all people. And since 2018, NKU has partnered with the Kroger Foundation to keep FUEL NKU, our on-campus food pantry, stocked in the fight against food insecurity among students of all backgrounds.

Perhaps the biggest and boldest partnership is the Moon Shot for Equity, a bold opportunity to take our equitable vision into the community around us with regional partners who share our ideals. This national effort led by EAB, a Washington, D.C.-based education consulting firm, seeks to close equity gaps within regional cohorts of two- and four-year institutions by 2030.

I am delighted that Gateway Community & Technical College, Miami University and Cincinnati State Technical & Community College have come together with us on this quest.

Together we can create a more equitable, healthy, educated and innovative region that spurs economic growth and social mobility. We can build on the ongoing work initiated by the Northern Kentucky and Greater Cincinnati chambers and other organizations.

Please email me your ideas on how we can advance our region by creating real opportunity for all at I look forward to hearing from you.

Ashish Vaidya is president of Northern Kentucky University