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USC Race Center Issues Report Card on Black Student Equity

LAS VEGAS—A new study paints a grim picture of inequity for the more than 900,000 African-American undergraduate students at institutions of higher learning across the nation.

“Black Students at Public Colleges and Universities” by Dr. Shaun R. Harper and Isaiah Simmons at the University of Southern California Race and Equity Center is a racial report card on colleges and universities in all 50 states.

Dr. Shaun R. HarperDr. Shaun R. Harper

Among the major findings in the report released Tuesday:

· Although 14.6 percent of the nation’s population aged 18 through 24 is Black, only 9.8 percent of full-time, degree-seeking undergrads at public colleges and universities are Black.

· Looking at bachelor’s completion rates across four cohorts at public schools, 50.6 percent of all graduates finished within six years while only 39.4 percent of Black students did so. And 41 percent of the schools graduated one-third or fewer Black students within six years.

· The ratio of full-time, degree-seeking Black undergraduates to Black faculty at the surveyed schools was 42:1. Meanwhile, 44 percent of the schools had 10 or fewer full-time Black faculty members across every academic field and rank.

One promising figure was that in the study population, the enrollment gap between Black men and Black women was smaller than the overall gender gap. Black women were just over 52 percent of Black full-time, degree-seeking undergraduates while women overall were 56.3 percent.

Isaiah SimmonsIsaiah Simmons

The study examined 506 public, four-year, nonspecialized post-secondary institutions and excluded private, tribal, military, HBCUs, community colleges, health and medical institutes, graduate universities and institutions that primarily confer associate’s degrees.

Harper, the Center’s executive director, and Simmons, a USC graduate student and research associate at the Center, write in the report that Black Americans are disproportionately disadvantaged by persistent inequities that must be addressed at the policy level.

“Clearly, policymaking activities concerning postsecondary education fail to level the playing field for Black Americans,” the authors write. “This is particularly attributable to raceless approaches to policymaking. Few state and federal policymakers are Black. Policy across all racial/ethnic groups are responsible for guaranteeing that public postsecondary institutions equitably serve the public, including Black residents within states they represent. Moreover, most college presidents, trustees, senior administrators, professors, and admission officers are White. They, too, are responsible for better serving Black students and affording them greater access to the public good that is public higher education.”

The research, supported by a Ford Foundation grant, used four equity indicators: representation equity, the extent to which Black students’ enrollment in undergraduate programs mirrored their representation among persons ages 18 through 24 in their state; gender equity, the extent to which the proportionality of Black women and Black men enrollment reflected national gender distribution across all ethnic and racial groups; completion equity, the extent to which the six-year completion rates of Black students across four cohort matched the graduation rates overall during the same time period at each institution; and the Black student-to-Black faculty ratio that counted full-time, degree-seeking Black undergrads and full-time Black faculty at each school.

Those indictors were indexed to compute numerical scores and corresponding letter grades similar to how grade point averages are typically calculated. The average score was 2.02, with no school earning above 3.5. In fact, 200 schools, about 40 percent of those studied, scored below 2.0.

Broken down by state, Massachusetts, Washington and California scored highest at 2.81, 2.59 and 2.46, respectively. Rounding out the top five were Arizona at 2.45 and Kentucky at 2.36.

Louisiana was at the bottom with a score of 1.18, followed by Nebraska and North Dakota, each with a score of 1.38, Mississippi at 1.42 and Michigan at 1.55.

At an Education Writers Association convening in Las Vegas on Monday, Harper said the report “makes it clear that institutions are failing Black students.” The problems, he said, are “systematic across states.”

“I’m hoping this report will be used by Black students and Black student activists who will urge their institutions to serve them better,” said Harper, who is also the Clifford and Betty Allen Chair in Urban Leadership at USC.  “I hope that it ignites a learning opportunity where institutions can learn from each other.”

Harper said that he plans to conduct an analysis every four years of the institutional data that colleges and universities provide to the federal government to see if there have been any improvements.

“Our recommendations are totally sensible and are not costly,” said Harper, adding, for example, that admissions officers should rethink how they market their institutions to Black students instead of taking a “very lazy approach” to student recruitment.

“Schools should behave more like coaches who go to the ends of the Earth to find Black athletes,” he said.

To read the entire report, click here.

LaMont Jones can be reached at [email protected]. You can follow him on Twitter @DrLaMontJones.  Jamal Eric Watson can be reached at [email protected]. You can follow him on Twitter @jamalericwatson.

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