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A College Degree Doesn’t Pay Off Equally for Everyone

Greater investment in community colleges could help close the educational attainment gap.

A college degree increasingly is the ticket to success in today’s economy. But college doesn’t pay off equally for every student, and our current patterns of enrollment are compounding a lack of racial equity in access.

Sameer Gadkaree, the Joyce Foundation’s senior program officer for higher education and the future of work, writes in Crain’s Forum how our higher education system may actually widen racial inequities, in particular those faced by black students compared with their white peers.

Joyce’s higher education program is focused on expanding degree opportunities and improving access to higher education for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds. Race- and income-based gaps in higher education are wider by some measures than they were 40 years ago. In his guest column, Gadkaree cites three potential methods for reversing these inequities:

  • More needs to be invested in community colleges. Evidence is growing in places like New York, Ohio and Illinois that more dollars make a difference in college success for less advantaged students, and even ultimately reduce costs.
  • Community colleges, which offer better overall access, should be allowed to bestow four-year degrees. That’s especially true in nursing, manufacturing and early childhood education, which increasingly require that level of education.
  • Four-year public universities should be encouraged to make equitable enrollment more of a priority. That may entail recruiting more students in overlooked high schools, but also could be encouraged by tying a college’s state funding to its racial equity commitment.

Crain’s Forum is a monthly, policy- and solutions-oriented project at Crain’s Chicago Business. Joyce is a supporter of the project.