Marsha Edwards is the president and CEO of the Martha O’Bryan Center in Nashville. This article was originally published as an Op-Ed piece in the Tennessean on Dec. 16th, 2021.
In this season of celebration and familial connection, the Martha O’Bryan Center celebrates a connection between our talented young people and a great university — bringing generational impact on the vibrancy and equity of this city.
At Martha O’Bryan, we see the possibility for an even greater opportunity for the students we serve if this program expands beyond Belmont University to other private institutions.
The Bridges to Belmont program is a tremendous success. Nashville students chosen for this full-ride, 4-year scholarship have risen to the challenge and often are reinvest their talents and education in this city.
Bridges to Belmont graduates are staying in Nashville: teaching in underserved schools, serving as social workers and providing healthcare in our hospitals.
Out of the nearly 300 scholarship recipients since the program’s inception, 191 recipients have come out of Martha O’Bryan Center’s Academic Student Unions (ASUs) at Stratford and Maplewood.
Hunters Lane High School is now a feeder school for Bridges to Belmont with the program’s recent expansion. Our ASUs are full-time sites embedded within high schools, and serve student’s needs from tutoring to social and emotional support.
We partner with the leadership and faculty of our ASU schools to ensure that every student we touch graduates high school with plans for a second graduation.
Our financial investment in Nashville high schoolers is considerable — over $2 million over the last 12 years but much less than the bold investment Belmont University made in 2013 to ensure that 24 students from low resourced homes had a true pathway to that institution.
Next year, that annual cohort grows to 50 full-ride scholarships for Nashville public school students. While we celebrate the success of these students, we also wonder: why not replicate this effort at all our private higher education institutions in Nashville?
This is not an area of collegiate competition but of collaboration for the greater good. Belmont has just expanded their efforts, but there simply is not enough full scholarship opportunities for low-income students in our city.
All private colleges provide student aid, but if your family is living below the poverty line, you can only attend these schools with a full-ride scholarship.
It’s the fullness of this program’s generosity that makes Belmont University possible for all of the young people we serve at the Martha O’Bryan Center. While we applaud all our higher education institutions— public and private— for their efforts, more programs like Bridges to Belmont are necessary for greater equitable higher-education opportunities.
A young person growing up in Cayce Place Homes who attends a four-year college and graduates ready for the business world is an incredible asset for Nashville. We are blessed with great public and private institutions and we know education defeats poverty more effectively than any other civic investment.
How might 500 full four-year scholarships for very low-income students across our private colleges diminish the generational stigma and power of poverty in Nashville? I think we already know!
Let’s do more of what works so that the return on investment pays off in 2022 and every year afterwards.
We can assure you, we know these students well — some since they were toddlers. These young people will not disappoint this city, their alma maters, their families or themselves.