Black Colleges Still Vital for Closing the Education Gap
Minority Serving Institutions help students break through barriers to attending elite colleges and universities
More and more students of all races and socioeconomic classes are attending college. Limited access to elite colleges and universities can facilitate racial and class-based stratification later in life. However, expansion of Minority Serving Institutions can help mitigate the impact of inaccessibility to the most selective institutions.
Education pays. Folks with graduate and professional degrees earn significantly more than their high school graduate counterparts. Certainly, the most selective and highly regarded institutions increase the likelihood of attending graduate or professional schools that qualify individuals for the highest paying jobs. Contrary to conventional wisdom, college selectivity has modest impact on individual earnings – meaning people with similar test scores, income and family educational levels earn relatively the same wherever they go. However, attending an elite college or university has much greater impact on low-income, African American and Latino students than whites.
The groups who are most likely to reap the benefits of an elite education are the least likely to attend. African American, Latinos, American Indians and Southeast Asians are more likely to attend failing high schools, have parents who did not go to college, and come from families in lower economic brackets – all barriers to selective colleges. Race and class are so interconnected that diverse student bodies are contingent upon post-secondary institutions’ consideration of both factors in admissions decisions.
Unfortunately since the Bush administration cautioned universities against using race as a factor for admissions, post-secondary institutions have developed practices that limit diversity on campuses. As a consequence, statewide governing boards control college enrollments in ways that stifle institutional freedoms to diversify student bodies. In many states, lawmakers are mandating admissions criteria, which creates tiers of institutions based on entering high school GPA and standardized test scores. These coordinating strategies assume that faculties can more efficiently graduate students with similar preparation levels.
Policymakers employed this approach in spite of the historically stable research that shows that GPA and SAT/ACT only predict 50% of the variance of whether or not students move on to their second year in college. Yet, many state and individual college policies stratify student enrollment in public colleges based mightily on test scores, which effectually faults the student for inequities in high school. In particular, poor students of color are most harmed by these policies. The research says retention and graduation have much more to do with universities’ inner workings. Faculty-student interaction, robust student affairs departments, on-campus job and research opportunities improve retention.
The current practice of tiering leaves little room for challenging universities to enroll students based on diversity goals so we can change the communities that need it most.
That is why before the end of 2011, the Obama administration sent a message to U.S. post-secondary institutions urging them to increase levels of racial diversity on their campuses. The Departments of Education and Justice jointly issued a 10 page guidance “to explain how, consistent with existing law, post-secondary institutions can voluntarily consider race to further the compelling interest of achieving diversity.”
Nevertheless, Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs), which include Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), Tribal College and Universities (TCUs) and Asian American Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions (AANAPISIs), are critical in providing access to their respective underrepresented sub-groups.
MSIs hire faculty of color, exhibit high levels of faculty/student interaction, have an institutional practice of working with low-income students and are committed to embracing and addressing cultural factors that impact student success. Rashida Govan, Policy and Research Director for the Orleans Parish Education Network and a Morgan State University graduate says, HBCUs have provided access to those denied to predominately white institutions. Upon their graduation, they have proven to matriculate into the best graduate schools in the country. This is evidenced by the high percentage of blacks with graduate degrees who come from HBCUs"
Marybeth Gasman professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education and author of the book, Understanding Minority Serving Institutions, says, “MSIs definitely provide opportunity, but more importantly, they are very good at creating pathways to graduate school for students who might otherwise be ignored. They provide a gateway to elite graduate education, which breaks down race and class barriers.”
If economic equity is a goal, the aim should be to get more people of color into colleges and universities that will prepare them for graduate and professional degrees. MSI’s may be the answer.