WASHINGTON — After three years on the job, Dr. Lorenzo L. Esters says he is leaving his post in August with the same “vigor and excitement” that he first brought to the job of broadening higher education access and opportunities for minority and other underrepresented students.
In September, Esters, who is the vice president for the Office for Access and the Advancement of Public Black Universities at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), will assume a newly created position at the historically Black Kentucky State University. As vice president of Student Success and Enrollment Management, Esters will lead a new initiative at Kentucky State aimed at coordinating the university’s efforts to better support students who are largely low-income, first-generation, and who require one or more remedial courses when they enroll.
“This is the population of students that I’ve been talking about for three years,” says Esters, who earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from HBCUs and who was the first in his family to go to college. Prior to joining APLU, Esters was senior adviser to the president of the historically Black Dillard University in New Orleans.
The move, he says, “represents a wonderful opportunity for me to put the things for which I have advocated for here at APLU into action on a local campus; important things like providing access for low-income students and more effectively supporting those students to enhance retention and graduation rates at Kentucky State.”
Kentucky State President Mary Evans Sias who tapped Esters for the new post is the chair-elect of the APLU’s Commission on Access, Diversity, and Excellence, which Esters manages. But once in place at Kentucky State, Esters hinted that he, not Sias, will likely represent the university on the Commission and plans to “be very much engaged.”
At APLU, Esters has been responsible for the broad and sometimes complex task of overseeing public Black universities, advocating for a group of 1890 Land Grant institutions, and overseeing APLU’s Commission on Access, Diversity and Excellence. In addition, his successor will have to create a new Committee on Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI) “to better serve the growing Hispanic student populations served by APLU member institutions,” according to the Association.
Advocating for HSIs, Esters contends, was always a part of the work that he did, “but it was never included in my title.”
In his first year on the job at APLU, Esters told Diverse: “My focus is to go where the students are, regardless of the type of campus that they’re on. The focus has to be two-fold. We are supporting the 1890s, but the other focus has to be on the changing demographics—students have choices and some are going to MSIs (minority-serving institutions) and some are going to majority institutions.”
And for whoever gets his job, Esters offered this advice: “Make sure that the door of higher education stays open to these students and that there is a seat at the table for this population so that they aren’t forgotten.”
Calling Esters one of higher education’s “rising stars,” Elliott Hirshman, president of San Diego State University and a member of the CADE executive committee, pointed to the development of the Commission’s strategic plan and brokering key partnerships to extend its reach, as “Lorenzo’s legacy at APLU.” That plan, Hirshman said, included a much-needed focus on enhancing faculty diversity, which directly impacts student access, retention and recruitment.
Taking stock of his own accomplishments at APLU, Esters counts among them a new global student exchange agreement with the Association of Columbian Universities and a plan for positioning the 1890s as vital players, not relics in higher education. In July when the Morrill Act, the legislation that created white Land Grant institutions, turned 150 years old, APLU’s Council of 1890 Land Grant University presidents and chancellors used the occasion to head to the White House where they brokered a new deal for their colleges.
The 1890s now have a five-year agreement with the EPA and USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Esters said. The partnership with these federal agencies will include student and training, technical assistance, mentoring opportunities, and faculty exchanges.
Also this year, his office released “The Quest for Excellence: Supporting the Academic Success of Minority Males in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Disciplines,” a report considered by some in STEM to be groundbreaking research on a population that is already underrepresented in higher education.
Among its key recommendations, researchers called for greater collaboration between four- and two-year institutions to improve minority male STEM education. And APLU’s response has been swift. The Association plans to award grants of $100,000 each to four, four-year institutions to support work in STEM in partnership with community colleges.
“We hope to use these institutions as models of success to share with our other institutions,” Esters said.
Into the Future
In his relentless effort to find, recognize and implement what’s working in higher education to advance college going rates and retention among minority and underrepresented students, Esters put the advisory board he formed a year ago to work. At the APLU’s upcoming November meeting, the advisory board, made up of corporate, non-profit, and education leaders, will announce the recipients of their Most Visible Progress Award. Until then, two- and four-year colleges will be preparing to compete for recognition and cash awards, said Advisory Board Member Lenora Green.
The Board, said Green, Director of Community Relations at the Educational Testing Service, will be looking for the best strategies for things like recruitment and retention and who’s getting it right when it comes to the numbers and innovative programs and services for “underrepresent students,” a term Esters and the board is using broadly to include minority students, community college transfers, veterans, and non-traditional students.