What if the pathway to racial justice in this country could start through our higher education system?
A new report released by The Education Trust explains how race-conscious policies at the institutional, state, and federal levels can help address racism in higher education. In the report, Ed Trust's Tiffany Jones, Ph.D., senior director of higher education policy, and Andrew Howard Nichols, Ph.D., senior director of higher education research and data analytics, reveal some hard truths that show the gaps in opportunity and outcomes that lie between Black and White students today.
Much of the report focuses on analysis of data showing outcomes for Black students, and explains ways the higher education system could address racial inequalities affecting these students. According to the report, “Nearly 3 out of 4 Black adults and more than half of White adults describe race relations as ‘bad,’” and though American society is working to resolve the underlying issues perpetuating disparities between White and Black students, much work still needs to be done in the higher education system.
The hard truths in the report reveal that even when Black and White students have the same income, there are still ample differences in the experiences they face that affect their access to higher education. They found that “Black students compared with White students from the same socioeconomic backgrounds, enroll at less-selective colleges, earn bachelor degrees at lower rates, and default on loans much more frequently.” The data analysis also reveals that Black students from high-income families are seven times more likely to default on loans compared to White students from high-income families.
Even though these truths are hard to swallow, they show just how powerful the U.S. higher education system can be in playing a role to eliminate racial inequality and injustice not just within education, but beyond.
Some policymakers and higher education leaders are already working toward enacting such race-conscious policies in their institutions. In Colorado, Gov. Jared Polis’ 2020 budget proposal includes funding for a new position that would lead the way to the state’s goal of getting 66% of students of color to earn a college degree or certificate in the next five years. According to the Ed Trust report, Dr. Angie Paccione, executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education, said, “Governor Jared Polis’ 2020 budget proposal includes funding for a first-in-the-nation Chief Educational Equity Officer to lead the way.” This new position would help Colorado coordinate efforts aimed at eliminating racial disparities in higher education.
In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy increased funding for public higher education in his fiscal year 2020 budget. These dollars were allocated through a funding formula that is in large part equity-based. This funding will play an essential part in helping New Jersey enroll and graduate more underrepresented students of color.
If more colleges and universities, states, and the federal government joined the effort to implement race-conscious policies, as recommended in the Ed Trust report, the attainment gaps between White and Black students could begin to close, and perhaps the goal of achieving higher education equity could be achieved.