Oakton Community College will offer free degree program for Black, male-identifying locals

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Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

Oakton Community College will offer a free two-year degree program for a cohort of 25 Black, male-identifying residents or employees of Oakton Community College District 535 starting next fall.

Elena Hubert, Assistant City Editor

Oakton Community College announced a free two-year certificate and degree program at its Skokie campus for an upcoming cohort of Black, male-identifying people who work or live in Oakton Community College District 535. 

The Emory Williams Academy for Black Men will open its doors next fall. Named after the former chair of Oakton’s Board of Trustees and longtime head of the Evanston Township High School vocational programs, the program will welcome a cohort of 25 first-year students. 

Mario Borha, the endowed chair of the academy, emphasized during a Thursday 5th Ward meeting the importance of specifically recruiting ETHS graduates, who he says have a low enrollment at Oakton despite the school’s size.

“There are a sizable number of graduates who … are fully college ready and are not coming to Oakton. They’re not going to a four-year school, but they’re also not directly engaging in the workforce,” Borha said. “There’s this opportunity to really take advantage of this pool of students.”

To be eligible, applicants must have a high school diploma or GED. After being admitted to Oakton, applicants of any age can apply to the Academy.

Cohort members will be able to choose between eight areas of study: computer science, engineering, human services, accounting, law enforcement and criminal justice, business, marketing and cannabis studies.

The Academy is dedicated to ensuring Black men succeed in the educational and workforce settings by supporting them every step of the way, Borha said. A career and transfer coach and a care coordinator will support cohort members. 

All members will take courses in African American history, literature, and culture and arts, taught by an all-Black faculty. Students will receive marketing and digital marketing certificates and an Associate of Applied Science degree upon completion. 

Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) said at the ward meeting that he supported the program but questioned the requirement that those in this fall’s cohort must be first-year college students, a requirement which Borha said may be re-evaluated on a case-by-case basis. The obstacles that kept college dropouts from earning a degree may be the same ones the Academy helps students overcome with financial and academic support, he said. 

“They had the motivation, they wanted to be there, they signed up, but one of those barriers … prevented them from completing the program,” Burns said.

As program staff look towards building a cohort of students at all ages and stages, Ruben Howard II, Oakton’s director of community engagement, said the Academy will be a “brotherhood of scholars” in alignment with the late Williams’ vision. 

Williams was previously the head of Evanston Township High School’s vocational programs, and held nearly 40 years of experience in public education.

“He was a believer in education and how education can transform lives, and he was a passionate advocate for access and opportunity,” Howard II said. 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @ElenaHubert25

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