A talk with Dr. Keyimani Alford at Madison College

When arriving at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1974, I noticed the African American population was such that if you were on campus, you knew one another; If you were living in the community, you knew each other.  As the years passed, the African American numbers have grown within the community, the corporate world and of course higher education.  The UMOJA Magazine is on a mission to help identify those individuals we may not know and shine a light on their contributions to Madison and the surrounding areas.

Hailing from Milwaukee, Dr. Keyimani Alford is Associate Vice President of Student Access and Success at Madison College.  It was my pleasure to meet Dr. Alford and ask a few questions about his current position and introduce him to you- our UMOJA readers.  

1. Usually when we think of finance professionals, we think of accountants or bookkeepers first. Would you describe the work of a financial administrator in an institution like Madison College?

Before Madison College, I worked for Great Lakes. That position opened my eyes to a larger corporate type of mindset. Getting involved with Great Lakes gave me national exposure.  I would attend conferences and be recognized for the webinars I produced as a trainer. The webinar subject matter involved federal regulations. This included updates from the Department of Education pertaining financial aid, freshman development, financial literacy, and default management for those who would have student loans transitioning out.  In 2017, I decided to take a position with Madison College as the Manager of Financial Aid and Federal Benefits. I received additional responsibilities managing the newly formed Promise programs. This is a pipeline for MMSD students to come to Madison College on a dollar scholarship.  When I became a Dean, another program was formed call CAEP (College Access & Experience Program).  Other access and retention and student support programs fell under this area.  I am currently Associate Vice President. I am responsible for developing and advancing the strategic direction of access and success programs. 

2. Education institutions across the country are making difficult decisions in order to respond to a challenging financial climate. The Universities of Wisconsin System has announced campus and program closures around the state in recent years. How is the fiscal climate affecting Madison College and how are you responding to it?

It’s different when you look at the institution types. A 4-year institution, in some instances, have endowment dollars that come from alumni that allow the creation of programming. Depending on what is happening in a UW system, some programs may be attached to certain particulars or requirements.  If these requirements aren’t met, programs collapse.  2-year institutions have a large amount of our operational dollars that come from tax revenue. We don’t have a huge endowment that allows us to leverage a lot of things. This requires a 2-year institution to be more intentional based on the demographic and population of those who attend our college.  They average age of our student is 27.  Students come here and return home and sometimes return to jobs they currently hold while in school.  The programming must meet the needs of the population we serve.

3. What are some things that you are excited about in the future of Madison College? What concerns do you have/what challenges are you facing?

Madison College overall is a really good institution that is student-focused. We are really focused on how we can improve the student experience and learn from the impacts of the pandemic. Before the pandemic, the majority of our classes were in person. We had an online presence but because we are a technical college, we offer programs with ‘hands on’ experience.  When the pandemic hit, we had to find a way to support the offerings we have for the students allowing us to be innovative in thinking about virtual reality and how we could leverage partnerships in the community so students can still be engaged. This caused more evaluation of the way we teach.  The pandemic showed us the possibilities and students wanted that to continue. Maintaining that structure for students has been exciting and something that is in the forefront of our minds. Supporting student parents has also been exciting. Working with Generation Hope has been one of our partners for the last two years. Their mission is for all teen parents and student parents and their children, have every opportunity to succeed and are empowered to create a better future for themselves, our community, and our world. As we strategically plan, we want to push a lot of ideas forward so that they won’t sit on the shelf.  Meeting the needs of students is always exciting. 

4. How do you help to prepare future generations of Black financial professionals?

Financial literacy is being exposed to the students so that they have tangible life skills after college. There are online workshops and other opportunities to expose students to that information. Outside of that, you have the whole cultural semination pieces of it allowing students to see more than just their day-to-day. In the Men of Excellence program, they do a black and brown college tour or college-bound conference where they discuss life after college. There are various career fairs, transfer options and connections to HBCUs. Former Madison College students come back as guest speakers for program-specific forums. We are also looking to provide space for mentors within the college, the community, and that are alumni to speak into the lives of the current students by expounding on what is in the world as well as what they can expect in their profession. 

5. What advice do you have for young people who may be interested in finance?

Explore all interests. Seek some of the programs that are out there. There are so many opportunities and ways for them to come to Madison College get exposed to our offerings and have those conversations. Don’t be afraid to ask questions even though it can be complicated but, don’t be fearful of the experience. Then, try to find ways to be able to get a foot in the door, and become an intern, and if it’s not there don’t be afraid to create it. 

6. How are you involved in the community outside of work?

I am the Music Director at The Life Church located in Milwaukee. I’m there every Sunday.  I use to commute to Milwaukee however, I’ve recently relocated back there.  Now, I commute to Madison each week.  In addition to being involved with my church, I serve on the board of my fraternity, Delta Psi Chi which was founded in Milwaukee in 1985. I have engaged in mentoring opportunities as well.  Lastly, I have served on various boards of financial aid and work groups.