A ‘national call to action’ to strengthen Black student enrollment

The Community for Black Learner Excellence, a new coalition of higher education leaders, has released a report calling on education leaders, lawmakers, philanthropists, and others to increase educational access for Black learners in order to reverse more than a decade of declines in Black student enrollment, Higher Ed Dive reports.

While postsecondary enrollment declined for most racial and ethnic groups aged 18-34 between 2011 and 2019, the decline was particularly sharp for Black student enrollment, which fell by 29%, according to data from the education consulting firm HCM Strategists. The consulting firm, which helped launch the 26-member coalition, also found that half of those declines came from community colleges, Inside Higher Ed says. Within that 2011-19 time frame, total Black undergraduate enrollment in public community colleges dropped by 26%, a concerning data point since those institutions enroll Black students at higher rates than other demographic groups.

Related: Report: Black enrollment at community colleges declines, academic gaps persist >

These enrollment declines have had a detrimental effect not only on the economic mobility of Black communities but also on the stability of the national economy, experts explain. If every Black learner with only a high school degree earned as much as the average Black adult with a bachelor’s degree, they would collectively have an estimated $222 billion more in lifetime earnings, the report says. Not only would those increased earnings help Black families, they’d also be reinvested in the U.S. economy.

Successfully engaging Black learners will take a collective effort. “We know that the onus is not on learners to rectify this loss,” the group says in a statement. “The responsibility for action lies with state, federal, and institutional leaders, supported by business, philanthropy, and communities.”

Value proposition of a college education

To reduce pervasive barriers to higher education, the group suggests stakeholders focus on restoring belief in the value of a college education and addressing the root causes limiting Black educational attainment and economic success. The report outlines four core commitments to achieve these goals, which include:

  • Creating transparency about bottom-line college costs. Eighty percent of Black Americans believe that college is unaffordable, the report says. To address these cost concerns, colleges should not only provide Black learners with the true price of their education before they apply but also help ensure that students don’t take on insurmountable debt. 
  • Investing in academic and social support. Across all postsecondary institutions, 21% of currently enrolled Black students report feeling discriminated against “frequently” or “occasionally” in their program, compared to 15% of all other students. To increase Black learners’ sense of belonging—and thus their retention—college leaders, community organizations, and state and federal leaders need to redesign systems that perpetuate harm against Black learners and invest in practices that build trust within their communities.
  • Building shared accountability for Black learners’ success. Education leaders and state and federal stakeholders should ensure Black learners’ academic work prepares them for life after college. Leaders should increase investments in under-resourced institutions that serve Black learners, including Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and track program-level outcomes, key trends, and unintended consequences.
  • Centering Black learners’ lived experiences and perspectives. To create supportive, inclusive campus environments attuned to Black learners’ varied experiences and backgrounds, college faculty and staff must reflect the diversity of the student body and use culturally competent teaching practices and curricula.
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