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There’s progress in closing the education gaps between races

In America, your address determines your opportunity — especially if you’re a person of color.

Quality schools, job training, and higher education institutions tend to be clustered away from communities of color. Brookings Institution reports that “while racial segregation has declined across many U.S. cities over the past 50 years … there are still stark differences in where people of different races live.”

Despite the 1968 Fair Housing ActBrown v. Board of Education, and the Voting Rights Act, all of which were enacted to promote racial equity, we still live in a segregated nation.

Every American has talent and should be empowered to cultivate that talent in a productive, rewarding life. Dr. Kim Hunter Reed of Louisiana’s State Higher Education Commission puts it best: “Talent has no ZIP code, but opportunity does.”

Addressing this issue can be risky, though. High-profile lawsuits designed to dismantle affirmative action and moves by the departments of Education and Justice to prohibit colleges from considering race in making admissions decisions are just two recent examples of the legal risk that responsible organizations face. These regulatory and cultural challenges discourage organizations from embracing the moral and economic imperative of racial equity.

Leading by Example

Even so, efforts to close the opportunity gap are underway in cities large and small across the nation. Organizations in communities such as Cincinnati; St. Louis; Peoria, Ill., and Skagit Valley, Wash., are using a variety of approaches to help people of color gain access to the education and training they need to get ahead.

In Cincinnati, the Strive Partnership has brought together education, workforce, and nonprofit partners to break the cycle of poverty, focusing on single mothers. About 72 percent of female-headed households receive public assistance, compared to 19 percent for married households and 47 percent for male-only households. About 57 percent of all Cincinnati children live in households headed by a single female. For African-American children, that rate is 73 percent.

Through its Intergenerational Success Project, Strive removes bureaucratic barriers and provides services for single mothers through daycare centers, enabling these women to earn certificates and degrees that lead to stable jobs and a living wage. Cincinnati has wisely focused this effort within four regions that are disproportionately African-American.

To the west, a partnership led by a group called St. Louis Graduates has been working with five higher education partners to transform campuses across the region. The group’s Degrees with Less Debt report serves as a blueprint for an equity-centered plan of action to make sure students have the same shot at finishing degrees, regardless of race. But these five colleges and universities know they can’t address racial equity alone. Instead, St. Louis Graduates has formed a Student Success Learning Institute to share strategies for better serving students of color.

Meanwhile, in Illinois, some colleges and universities have stepped up to improve conditions for racial equity on and off campus. Illinois Central College knows that its home city of Peoria is considered a hostile environment by most of its black residents — including its own students. In response, the college will train dozens of facilitators to hold ongoing conversations within the Peoria community to break down the racial barriers that make some feel safer and more welcome than others.

Rural areas are showing leadership in racial equity, too. Skagit Valley College, which is the only accessible college within more than 2,100 square miles of remote coastland in western Washington, will train students across the region to create a corps of 250 new leaders who will facilitate conversations about racial differences with their classmates. By improving attitudes and building skills across diverse communities of Latino populations, Skagit Valley will improve its own campus climate and increase opportunities for students to succeed.

Each of these leading organizations is addressing the opportunity gap in different ways, but — and perhaps most important — they are investing in racial equity. By taking strong and specific actions to support the success of people, these leaders are unlocking opportunity in every ZIP code.

Tracy Chen
Lumina Foundation: Working to ensure a quality education for all Americans
Lumina Foundation: Working to ensure a quality education for all Americans
August 8, 2019

Lumina Foundation is an independent, private foundation in the United States that is committed to making opportunities for learning beyond high school available to all.