Race-conscious policies needed to reverse historical inequities in higher ed, report says

Higher education officials need to consider race-conscious policies if they want to reverse historical inequities in college admissions and outcomes, according to a new report from The Education Trust. The nonprofit defines race-conscious policies as a course of action that explicitly addresses race in its design and provides higher education access, opportunity, or support to students of color, and the colleges and universities serving them.

Income not an effective proxy

Education stakeholders often use income as a substitute for race in designing policies, but Ed Trust says that such “colorblind” approaches alone do “not result in achieving racial justice… because Black and White students and families with the same income often have vastly different experiences and circumstances that can affect educational and financial outcomes.”

A video accompanying the new report highlights inequities in completion rates and student loan default rates between Black and white students of the same income level, adding that the household net worth of Black students who graduated from college is less than that of white students who dropped out of high school. 

Three recommendations for addressing inequities

The Ed Trust authors lay out several recommendations to help policymakers and higher ed leaders support race-conscious policies, including removing the ban on affirmative action in eight states. “[The] first step in some places is removing barriers so that institutional leaders are motivated and interested in enacting race-conscious policies and feel safe to do so,” Tiffany Jones, co-author of the report told Diverse Issues in Higher Education. “Step one involves removing those bans so that institutional leaders feel they can create programs, initiatives, scholarships and other strategies that mention race without feeling a program might be in violation of a state ban,” she says.

The report suggests asking accreditors to examine campuses’ racial climate—considering, for instance, the representation of faculty, staff, and students of color. Increasing federal and state investment in places most likely to serve Black students—historically Black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, community colleges, and other minority-serving institutions—also will be crucial, given how those institutions have traditionally underfunded, the authors say.

Ultimately, it is not enough to enroll more students of color or hire Black faculty, said Terri Watson, an associate professor of educational leadership in the School of Education at City College of New York. Institutions must explicitly talk about race, and assess and improve their racial climates. “Until we actively, intentionally, and clearly address race and the systemic function of both race and racism, we’ll always be at the starting point, meaning the policies are ineffective before they are even enacted,” she said.

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