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Bonita Brown Chosen as National Designer in Residence to Reimagine the Role of Higher Education in Closing Racial and Economic Opportunity Gaps

Bonita Brown Chosen as National
Designer in Residence to Reimagine
the Role of Higher Education in Closing
Racial and Economic Opportunity Gaps


May 17, 2021 —  Northern Kentucky University’s Bonita Brown has been appointed to the Education Design Lab’s Designers in Residence program. The Education Design Lab is a national nonprofit that addresses the future role of institutions in their regional communities.

Spanning a diverse cross-section of communities, institutional positionality and lived experience and expertise, the Designers in Residence will work together as a design team to co-create a model for colleges to be regional change agents to close economic and racial opportunity gaps as we move into a post-COVID economy. Brown, who serves as NKU’s Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer, will work with national policy leaders and the additional 11 cohort members to eliminate equity and economic opportunity gaps in higher education.

Bonita Brown

Bonita Brown

“I’m thankful for this opportunity to collaborate with the Education Design Lab, and to learn and strategize alongside the top industry leaders about how NKU can continue facilitating growth and change in the region,” said Brown. “Our campus has a long-standing commitment to serving as an economic driver. The shared insights will help us underscore our goal of meeting students where they are and expand access to higher education. I’m ready to reimagine the strategies and partnerships that support NKU in meeting the needs of our diverse students and regional collaborators.”

According to the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, graduate enrollment at four-year public universities declined 2.1% in fall 2020, and is down 7.3% compared to five years ago across the Commonwealth this year. That trend follows the national data, where 22% fewer students enrolled in higher education than prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

To help address these disparities, Designers in Residence will leverage their collective expertise to co-create a framework that centers on the needs of their learners within a rapidly evolving economy and provide the start of a roadmap for other institutions and innovators seeking to build and scale this system. Brown will be building new initiatives to promote student success opportunities for learners at NKU and across the country.

“We hope to emerge from this year with design tools that will position  the scores of learner success partnerships around the country to seize what we all believe is an innovation moment, coming out of the pandemic,” said Kathleen deLaski, CEO of the Education Design Lab. “Colleges recognize that their roles are evolving along with learner views about degrees and employers needs, and with a heightened urgency around what it will take to break down racial and economic barriers to open up liveable wage futures for all.”

Brown joined NKU in 2019 as the university’s inaugural Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer. She drives the implementation and execution of NKU’s strategic framework, Success by Design, which has resulted in the university elapsing 16,000 students for the first time.

Education Design Lab’s program is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and more information can be found here. To learn more about NKU’s strategic framework and its focus on advancing student success around the three pillars—access, completion and career and community engagement—visit its website.

About NKU: Founded in 1968, NKU is an entrepreneurial state university of over 16,000 students served by more than 2,000 faculty and staff on a thriving suburban campus nestled between Highland Heights, Kentucky and bustling downtown Cincinnati. We are a regionally engaged university committed to empowering our students to have fulfilling careers and meaningful lives. While we are one of the fastest-growing universities in Kentucky, our professors still know our students' names. For more information, visit