Racial Equity in Education

with Andrew Nichols of the Education Trust

Black and Hispanic students remain underrepresented at the nation’s top colleges and universities.

Andrew Nichols of The Education Trust discusses a new report that highlights the historical basis for this gap and the importance of race-conscious policies in higher education.

Posted on:

Mar 02, 2020

Hosted by: Sheila Hyland
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Hyland: On June 2, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, which included the policy of affirmative action, affording equal opportunity for minorities and women in education and employment. Decades later, black and Hispanic students remain underrepresented at top U.S. colleges and universities. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Sheila Hyland. Joining me to talk about the importance of focusing on race and higher-education policy is Andrew Nichols, Senior Director of Higher Education, Research and Data Analytics of the Education Trust. And, Andrew, thank you so much for being our guest today.

Nichols: Thank you for having me.

Hyland: So I know that you coauthored a report called "Hard Truths," and what you say is that racist policies have to be overturned to achieve racial equality in higher ed. The question is, what would you like people to know about racial inequality in higher ed?

Nichols: Well, any conversation about race in higher education must start with acknowledging the racist past of colleges and universities. Students of color have had limited opportunities in higher education. The G.I. Bill is a really good example of that. So in the 1940s, the soldiers came home from war, and black soldiers weren't able to take advantage of the G.I. Bill in the way that white soldiers were able to do so because white colleges weren't admitting black students at the time. And the other option was to attend historically black colleges and universities in the south, and they simply didn't have the capacity to accommodate all the new soldiers coming back. So many of them just had to work instead. So this is just one example of how race has influenced higher education in a negative way for folks of color, and there are many more, but the problem is there are still significant amounts of racial inequality in higher education to this day, and that's why we argue that race-conscious policy is necessary.

Hyland: And affirmative action was supposed to help with some of that.

Nichols: Mm-hmm.

Hyland: What's happened with affirmative action?

Nichols: Well, contrary to popular belief, affirmative action is still legal. And so there are eight states that have essentially banned affirmative action or using racing in college admissions. But, essentially, every other college outside of, you know, the ones in those eight states can use affirmative action. The problem is colleges and universities aren't really using it very aggressively. They're not using race in college admissions, is what the research tells us, and so that's a problem.

Hyland: You say that white students, particularly white, wealthy students, are given a clear advantage. What's happening there, and what are the ripple effects of that?

Hyland: Yeah, there are a couple reasons. One are the recruiting practices. Colleges and universities tend to go to the same places year after year, and the research says that they're less likely to go to schools that have high numbers and percentages of people of color. So that's part of the issue. Another issue revolves around standardized testing, and we know this disproportionately hurts black and Latino students, right? And so if colleges and universities focused more on high-school grades and focus more on kind of nonacademic factors like personal background and experience. You know, that would help, as well. Another issue deals with kind of legacy students, is what you call them. And so a lot of elite institutions are essentially giving people an admissions bump if their parents went to that institution that disproportionately benefits white and wealthy students.

Hyland: The disparities start, of course, long before college and even high school. They go back to even kindergarten. Talk about what's happening there and why they're at a disadvantage once they get to college level.

Nichols: Yeah, certainly. So the racial differences and opportunity in higher education, as you mentioned, don't just really start in higher ed. Part of it is what's happening in K-12. And so in K-12, black and Latino students essentially get a different experience. Many of them are going to underfunded schools. And so research that we've done shows that schools that primarily serve black and Latino students, on average received $2,000 less per student than some of the schools that have very few black and Latino students. Also, black and Latino students often go to schools that have inexperienced teachers or teachers that are teaching outside their subject -- out of their expertise area. And, again, many of these schools don't have rigorous curricular options such as calculus or A.P. courses, and so this really hinders their ability to get prepared for college and develop a résumé that allows them to be a candidate at selective colleges and universities.

Hyland: There is so much information from this report, obviously, but what are the strategies moving forward to assure racial equity in higher education?

Nichols: So I'll tell you a bit about what I think colleges, states, and the federal government should do, but the main point in the paper is that we can't simply focus on income, thinking that we're gonna solve the racial disparities in higher education, right? So a lot of people feel more comfortable talking about income differences because races are really, you know, charged subject, a mostly charged subject. But the reality is you can't focus on income and think that you're gonna solve racial problems. And in our report, we really dig into that. So we look, actually, at black and white students from the same income background, and we look at their outcomes, we look at their ability to get into selective colleges, we look at their completion rates and we look at their loan-default rates, and what we see are significant disparities even within the same income bracket by race. And so -- and a good example of this looks at college completion. So if you look at black and white students from lower-middle income backgrounds that go to four year colleges, only half of those black students get a degree in six years, compared to about 2/3 of white students. So, again, you have same income, different race, different outcomes.

Hyland: And there's a big gap there. Where can people find out more information about this and about the report, as well?

Nichols: Absolutely. Please visit our website. It's edtrust.org. You can find information on us, our work, and hard truths.

Hyland: Alright. Andrew Nichols, thank you so much for being our guest today.

Nichols: Thank you for having me.

Hyland: And thank you for watching. For more great conversations with leaders from your community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Sheila Hyland.

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