Disparities in Higher Learning

Disparities in Higher Learning

We center achieving racial equity in all of our work to ensure more adults earn degrees and other credentials after high school.

Policies, practices, and beliefs—rooted in history and yet still affecting people—keep many Black, Latino, Hispanic, and Native American people from receiving the education they need. These systems unfairly hold back students who are seeking a better life. Racial disparities are widening, and inequity will continue to grow without concerted efforts. 

Deliberate policies created or contributed to unfair and unjust conditions in American higher education, and it will take focused effort to remove barriers and help Black and brown people realize real opportunity.  

These students often attend poorly resourced public schools beset by segregation and financing policies that disproportionately advantage wealthier, mostly white families. These disadvantaged students often do not have access to the same level of college counseling and other services as peers from wealthier homes. This lack of college preparation contributes to stark disparities in college enrollment and graduation rates. On campus, they often do not encounter professors, counselors, and administrators who look like them. Or they don’t receive enough income-based financial aid. Or they face discrimination inside and outside the classroom. Such obstacles can make students feel unwelcome or even lead to a hostile learning environmentn

In response to recent court challenges, colleges and universities must focus on increased recruitment and retention of Black and brown students. This includes making the admissions process fairer, addressing departmental, institutional, and systemwide policies that disproportionately advantage white students. Colleges must take bold steps to ensure that their campuses are racially, ethnically, and culturally diverse. This includes revising hiring and selection practices to ensure that they have a faculty and staff that reflects the diversity of the surrounding community. Colleges also should provide mentoring programs, childcare, counseling services, and financial aid. 

Even amid serious skepticism, education and training after high school remain among the most secure pathways to economic stability. Even so, the country today needs a learning system that works well for everyone. 

At Lumina Foundation, we work with partners across the country to ensure that colleges, universities, and other education providers make opportunity real for students of color, students who are the first in their families to go to college, students from low-income families, and working-age adults. 

We believe change starts with explicitly addressing the role that race and racism play in perpetuating unjust educational outcomes. With every passing day, we realize we can—and must—do more to lift our voices and elevate our actions on behalf of people who have long been prevented from realizing their true potential. 

More on Disparities in Higher Learning

Nine ways funders can increase diversity in higher ed in a world without affirmative action

In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s June 29 decision to end affirmative action in college admissions, a group of foundations quickly issued a joint statement condemning the decision, saying, “The Supreme Court’s decision impedes colleges and universities from selecting their own student bodies and fully addressing systemic racial inequalities that persist.”

With the end of race-conscious college admissions, Americans have reached common ground on what’s needed next

What will American colleges and universities look like now that the Supreme Court has upended affirmative action? The evidence is clear: As we’ve seen from states that had already banned race-conscious admissions prior to the court’s recent decision, enrollment for students of color will decline. We can avoid going backward only if institutions embrace new approaches for increasing student diversity and abolish advantages for the privileged, such as legacy preferences.
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Disparities in Higher Learning

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The Communications Network’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Project provides tools, research, case studies, and guidance to help teams integrate practices that support racial equity in their communications work.

ComNet’s DEI site
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Defining the difference between racial justice and racial equity

Defining Racial Justice and Equity

Racial equity

Racial equity is achieved when outcomes such as the likelihood of having a degree or other quality credential, or being called for an interview, or being selected as a Lumina grantee or contractor cannot be predicted by a person’s race or ethnicity.

Racial justice

Racial justice will be realized when the policies, practices, systems, and root causes that lead to inequitable outcomes are eradicated.

Group of Black men in conversation

Talking About Racial Justice and Equity

At Lumina, we hold ourselves accountable for making a difference. We begin by explicitly addressing the role race plays in perpetuating unjust educational outcomes. With every passing day, we realize we can—and must—do more to lift our voices and elevate our actions to build a fair and just society for people who have long been prevented from realizing their potential. Click through to learn more about our journey, which is nowhere near complete.

Our Journey Toward Racial Justice

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