Atif M. Qarni is the Associate Director at The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice. Before joining The Hope Center, Atif Qarni served for four years as Virginia’s Secretary of Education, championing K-12 and higher education reforms at the state level, through the legislative and policy-making process. His progressive #RealCollege agenda in Virginia led to many successes, including tuition-free community college with basic needs stipend; in-state tuition rates and state financial aid for undocumented students; historic increase in need-based financial aid; and record investments in public Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
During the pandemic, Atif led the COVID-19 Education Response and Recovery Task Force for the PK-20 education continuum to develop recommendations for long-term recovery plans. The task force recommendations addressed learning gaps, digital divide, food insecurity, and basic needs, as well as mental and physical health; it also served as a guide to help allocate Federal and State dollars to those with the greatest need.
Prior to his appointment as Virginia’s Secretary of Education, Atif taught at Beville Middle School in Prince William County for 10 years. During his tenure as a public-school teacher, Atif also served as a GED Night School Instructor, where many of his students were formerly incarcerated persons, from low-income households, or immigrants with limited English proficiency.
In addition to his work as an educator, Atif is a veteran. He was a Sergeant of the United States Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq in 2003 during Operation Iraqi Freedom. While in the U.S. Marine Reserves, he attended George Washington University, where he received a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology (2000). While a full-time student, he worked two part-time jobs to cover his basic needs—including housing and food. As an immigrant from Pakistan, Atif is acutely aware of the language barriers, financial, food, and resource insecurities that disadvantaged students face when pursuing higher education goals.
In 2006, Atif enrolled at George Mason University to begin work on his Master’s degree in History and to fulfill his teaching license requirements, he also took several courses at Northern Virginia Community College. During his tenure as Virginia’s Secretary of Education, Atif leaned on colleges and universities to strengthen their articulation agreements to create more seamless opportunities for students to transfer credits from community colleges to four-year degree institutions.
The difficulties of pursuing higher education goals while raising a family and working full-time is a struggle that is all too familiar to Atif. He understands how challenging it can be for young people with families to pursue their higher education goals while juggling careers, children, and paying the bills.