Share This Page

Op-Ed: Prioritize All College Students, Not Just the Wealthy


The economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic makes it imperative that we address the deep racial disparities in American higher education, even as it worsens our divides and complicates the solutions.

To be successful, policymakers need to rebuild our higher-ed system to prioritize all students, not just wealthy ones, and go back to placing more college costs on taxpayers rather than students and families who can’t afford it.

Those are among a list of remedies prescribed by Sameer Gadkaree, the Foundation’s senior program officer in charge of higher ed and the future of work, in an op-ed column in Crain’s Forum.

Gadkaree was writing as part of Joyce’s support for research and policy developments to increase postsecondary outcomes in the Great Lakes region, particularly among low-income students and students of color.

In the column, Gadkaree notes recent assaults on affirmative action in college admissions obscure the fact that the country has never achieved equitable education for Black Americans, and that the wealthiest public universities have never enrolled a representative share of Black students.

He cites a recent report by the Education Trust, funded by Joyce, suggesting that many of those public institutions are losing ground in the drive for more equity, including both the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Gadkaree believes that solving the problem will take time, but requires prompt action by state and federal leaders along with colleges and universities themselves.

The COVID crisis is creating a huge strain on public finances. That may lead to more budget cuts for higher ed, and possibly more reluctance to ask universities to better serve all residents, including some who can’t pay as much tuition – both moves that officials should resist.

The Joyce Foundation is a sponsor of Crain's Forum, a monthly project of Crain’s Chicago Business that explores the region’s biggest problems and possible solutions. You can find it here.