Progress is about partnerships—in racial justice and education as surely as anywhere else.
In Lumina’s case, as we embrace a national goal of ensuring that by 2025, 60 percent of working-age adults have a quality credential beyond high school, that means partnering with others and encouraging best practices across the country through our state policy agenda.
We understand that learning after high school is necessary for economic opportunity and social mobility, and we also know that systemic, structural barriers have led to unfair and unjust educational outcomes by race and ethnicity. Our equity-focused policy agenda seeks to address this issue. State leaders have an opportunity to identify and root out the laws, policies, and practices that have effectively denied students of color the higher levels of educational attainment they deserve.
Our efforts to assist them are part of a broad Lumina effort, our equity-first framework. This is designed to help ensure that the economic and pandemic recovery mean progress for everyone—not simply a return to a “normal” that was never just or sufficient. As part of that effort, we’ve set aside $15 million in a Racial Justice and Equity Fund to support social justice organizations and efforts. We also have developed research-based communication tools to help persuade people of the need for racial justice and equity.
This work is important because Black, Hispanic, Latino, and Native American people often are denied learning opportunities and the support they need to succeed. The attainment rate for post-high school learning among Hispanics remains at 25.5 percent, while the attainment of associate and bachelor’s degrees among working-age Americans has increased during the past five years to 44 percent. Among Black adults, 32 percent have college degrees, compared with 49 percent for white Americans. For both Hispanic and Black adults, disparities have diminished by less than one percentage point within five years— and they’ve grown in some states.
And these conditions did not occur by accident—they are the result of deliberate policies, practices, and beliefs that have built systemic barriers.
We see the results etched in the nation’s disturbing economic data: As noted by Columbia University law professor Susan Sturm, “the median wealth of White families is 20 times that of Black families and 18 times that of Latinx families. This economic inequality is compounded by structural racism documented in the criminal justice system, education, housing, and employment.”
Our response must be equally deliberate and even more committed until we afford people of color the opportunity to build the educational foundation that we know leads to economic stability and civic vitality.
Lumina’s state policy agenda calls for:
- Robust and equitable state financing of the public colleges, universities, and training centers that serve the greatest numbers and highest percentages of students of color, students from families with low incomes, and working-age adults.
- Coherent, comprehensive student financial aid resources that serve those in the greatest financial need, especially students of color.
- Fair and consistent systems for assessing and validating people’s knowledge and skills that include pathways for adult learners of color to earn quality credentials.
We’ll know we’re getting there when an outcome—such as earning a college degree or short-term credential—cannot be predicted by a person’s race or ethnicity. And we’ll know when justice is achieved when policies, practices, and root causes of inequitable outcomes have been eliminated.
Leaders in several states are seizing the opportunity of this moment. Lumina has worked with Colorado, Massachusetts, Oregon, Tennessee, and Virginia to focus resources and policies toward better serving students of color and students from low-income families. There’s still much work to do, but we applaud these initial efforts.
We call on other states to follow their lead. And we encourage them to review Lumina’s policy agenda. We believe it can help any state foster and support a fair and just higher education system— one that serves all students well.
Danette Howard is Lumina’s senior vice president and chief policy officer.
Scott Jenkins is Lumina’s strategy director for state policy.