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Top Public Colleges Losing Ground in Racial Equity

10 steps recommended to improve poor enrollment trends for Black and Latino students

Despite pledges to advance racial equity, the nation’s most prestigious and best-funded public colleges are actually going backward in efforts to make themselves more accessible to Black and Latino students.

A new report by Washington, D.C.-based Education Trust shows that 60 percent of the 101 most selective public colleges and universities enroll a smaller percentage of Black students today than they did 20 years ago. While the number of Latino students has increased, their enrollment is not keeping pace with Latino population growth in most states.

The full EdTrust report can be found here. At a time of heightened awareness of systemic racism amid the COVID-19 crisis and recent police killings, the report shines new light on the continuing limits Black and Latino students face in finding educational opportunities, even before the most recent economic downturn.

After making progress on racial inclusion in the decades following the civil rights struggle, many universities began moving in the wrong direction from the late 1990s onward.

The report, based on federal education and U.S. Census data, is entitled “Segregation Forever?” -- a reference to Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who 60 years ago tried to bar African Americans from attending the University of Alabama, declaring “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

Among other findings: Only 9% of the most selective colleges enroll representative numbers of Black students. Just 14% enroll representative numbers of Latino students. The colleges in the states with the largest Black populations are the least accessible institutions for Black students.

In the Great Lakes region, every university included in the analysis earned an “F” for its black student enrollment.

The University of Minnesota Twin Cities, the University of Michigan, Ohio State University and the University of Cincinnati are now more than 30 percentage points less representative than they were two decades ago, backsliding dramatically in their inclusion of Black students.

Latino students were underrepresented at every top public college except for the University of Illinois-Chicago and Miami University in Ohio.

The report’s analysis and comparison of state-level data can be found here.

The report offers 10 recommendations for college administrators and policy makers to once again allow these public institutions to live up to their promise:

  1. Adopt statewide and institutional goals to increase access
  2. Invest in college admissions counseling
  3. Use race more prominently in admissions decisions
  4. Rescind state bans on affirmative action
  5. Increase financial aid to Black and Latino students
  6. Alter recruitment strategies
  7. Improve campus racial climates
  8. Use outcomes-based funding policies equitably
  9. Leverage federal accountability
  10. Reduce the role of standardized testing and/or consider making tests like SAT and ACT optional

The Joyce Foundation supported the Education Trust research as part of its investment in equitable access to high quality education and jobs for the next generation, especially young people of color and those from low income communities.

The report adds to a body of evidence compiled by Joyce grantees, including the Institute for Higher Education Policy, Demos, UCLA, and the Partnership for College Completion, showing we have a long way to go to ensure that top universities are accessible for students of color. The Foundation supports ongoing state and federal policy efforts to reduce the stratification of the higher education system by race and family income.

Joyce is a nonpartisan private foundation that invests in policies to advance racial equity and economic mobility in the Great Lakes region.