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Economic Mobility and Racial Equity in Higher Education


Over the past few decades, a college education has become ever more essential to getting a stable job with good wages. But inequitable higher education funding systems are increasingly putting a college degree out of reach for students from low-income families and students of color.

Students from rich families have a growing advantage at getting across the college finish line compared to students from poorer families. And the gap in bachelor’s degree attainment between black and Latinx students and white students is growing.

Those developments are related to the changing way our society finances college. Over decades, state funding for public higher education has dropped, forcing colleges to turn to tuition and fees to finance their operations. This method of funding puts an undue financial burden on students and families and disproportionately harms students from poorer families as well as black and Latinx students. It also hurts our country’s ability to produce the college graduates that keep our nation, states, and cities economically competitive in the global economy.

The Joyce Foundation funds research, public policy development, and advocacy on how our nation’s higher education system can increase economic mobility and racial equity in the Great Lakes region. Specifically, we focus on policy change at the federal level and in six states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan. Funding is an important piece of the puzzle, but Joyce also supports efforts to ensure college leaders are aware of and apply best practices to promote retention and graduation. That’s why the Foundation has supported the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence since its inception:

This page highlights Joyce Foundation-funded research on the challenges that lie ahead for our higher education system – and what we need to do about it.

A growing body of Joyce-funded evidence appears to indicate minimal or stalled progress in increasing racial representativeness in selective public colleges.

Early evidence suggests that there are significant disparities in college funding for black and Latinx students versus white students; those differences are driven in large part by a concentration of students of color in two-year community colleges.

Of particular note is the importance of promoting better models to the baccalaureate degree. The Foundation supports improving the system of transfer from two-year to four-year degrees, and research on effective applied baccalaureate programs:

Finally, we believe that models that connect college and the workplace are worth expanding, when possible:

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