According to a report published by the Education Trust, the most prestigious public schools in the U.S. enroll a smaller percentage of Black students today than they did 20 years ago. Of the 101 elite institutions surveyed in the study, 60% enroll a lower percentage of Black students than they did in 2000. While Latinx enrollment has increased at these schools, the rate of growth is still far outpaced by the Latinx population growth rate in nearly all states.
These trends are appalling, particularly because higher education is an essential pillar of social mobility. Social mobility is generally defined as movement through a social hierarchy; in particular, higher education engenders social mobility by propelling individuals to higher income levels.
There is a plethora of evidence that a college degree significantly impacts average financial prospects. For example, in 2017 the unemployment rate for college graduates was less than half the national average for those with a high school degree, at 2.5% versus 5.3% respectively.
In 2014, the average annual earnings for Latinx people with college degrees was $58,493, versus $30,329 for Latinx people with high school diplomas. The average earnings for Black people with college degrees was $59,027, versus $28,439 for Black people with high school diplomas. Below is a graph with further detail on earnings by education level for Latinx, Black, Asian, and white individuals.
The numbers clearly indicate that higher education has a salient impact on financial wellbeing, and therefore on social mobility as well. In this way, it is extremely concerning that the gap in bachelor’s degree attainment between BIPOC and white people has widened over the past several decades. The gap has stretched from 9% to 20% for Latinx people since 1974, and from 6% to 13% for Black people since 1964.
It is important to note that it is not just acceptance to colleges that contributes to the higher education disparity; even after BIPOC enter higher education, they face many barriers to degree completion. Degree completion rates are lower among Black and Latinx students than white and Asian students; in particular, half of Asian students in postsecondary education complete their bachelor’s degrees, while less than one in five Latinx students and roughly one in five black students complete their degrees.
There are many changes to be made to make the higher education system more equitable and to decrease the disparity between BIPOC and white people in higher education.
Mentorship and outreach programs can substantially impact BIPOC entering and completing college. For example, College Greenlight connects “traditionally underrepresented” students to scholarships and mentors that can help in the college application process.
Programs like College Greenlight can significantly impact the number of high school BIPOC applying to and attending college. As mentioned previously, however, BIPOC students are inhibited by further challenges and obstructions to graduation after being admitted to college.
One such barrier is the lack of diverse faculty within higher education. Research indicates that diverse representation amongst faculty increases BIPOC students’ feelings of academic validation, as well as increasing sense of belonging and academic well-being.
During the 2013 to 2014 school year, there were seven times as many white faculty as Black and Latinx faculty within higher education institutions in the U.S. Institutions should examine current hiring practices as well as tenureship practices for college faculty, and should include race as a significant component in the faculty and administration hiring process. A substantive way to implement this change is to use affirmative action in the higher education staffing process.
Institutions should examine current hiring practices as well as tenureship practices for college faculty, and should include race as a significant component in the faculty and administration hiring process.
Affirmative action seeks to increase representation of historically underrepresented groups such as BIPOC. By implementing formal affirmative action policies, higher education institutions can prioritize race as a component in diversifying higher education.
Higher education institutions can also implement support systems such as community building for BIPOC on campus. Diversity and resource centers such as those available at the California State University Fullerton, including the African American Resource Center and the Chicano/Chicana Resource Center, are example environments where BIPOC can find community and support as they navigate university. Although student-run organizations can also serve similar purposes, official resources directly supported by universities are essential structures that should be widely implemented across college campuses.
Through rigorous efforts, we can reform higher education to close the divide in degree completion between BIPOC and white people in the U.S. Opportunities abound to create change, both inside and outside higher education institutions.
To truly reform, we must continually investigate and re-evaluate the structures in place within the higher education pipeline, and generate innovative solutions to combat long-standing inequities.
Last updated 12/18/20
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