Equity in Higher Education Policy Lunch & Learn – Seminar Descriptions

Wednesday, April 24: Justice-Impacted Students and College Opportunity

There is a tremendous amount of interest in access to high-quality higher education opportunities for students who are incarcerated and impacted by the criminal justice system. Many organizations are seeking to learn more about the issue and how to best advance it. A comprehensive meta-analysis found that individuals incarcerated who participate in correctional education programs were 43 percent (or 13 percentage points) less likely to recidivate, and 13 percent more likely to obtain employment after release, than individuals incarcerated who did not. In other words, each dollar spent on prison education reduces costs by $4 to $5 within three years of release.

The issue of access to quality higher education in prison is clearly an equity issue: Individuals in the U.S. are disproportionately people of color and people from low-income backgrounds. For example, among people formerly incarcerated without high school diploma or GED, 25 percent of White men are unemployed versus 60 percent of Black women and over half of Hispanic women. Restoring access to higher education for these individuals is both a moral and economic imperative.

By participating in the seminar, attendees will:

  • Hear from and engage students who have been impacted by the justice system
  • Identify critical policy levers (e.g., Second Chance Pell Grants, REAL Act) to advance high-quality higher education in prisons
  • Learn more about advocacy opportunities through organizations such as Unlock Higher Education Coalition

Friday, July 19: Accountability in Higher Education

It is clear: The higher education system needs to be improved as students struggle to enroll, graduate, and repay their student loans. This is especially true for low-income students and students of color, who attend and complete college and repay their loans at lower rates than their peers. Accountability provisions in current law, including the 90/10 and gainful employment requirements — which aim to cap federal funding of for-profit colleges and hold career training programs accountable for providing labor market return on investment among graduates — represent important safeguards against the proliferation of unscrupulous institutions of higher education and low-quality postsecondary credentials.

These existing accountability provisions must be maintained and strengthened, but that alone is insufficient. A reauthorized Higher Education Act (HEA) must create pressure and support for the entire higher education system to improve, especially for the low-income students and students of color who are most likely to be underserved by today’s system.

By participating in the seminar, attendees will:

  • Discuss policies that hold higher education institutions accountable for access, completion, gainful employment, etc.
  • Learn about emerging accountability policies and their implications on equity
  • Identify policy levers and opportunities to advance and incentivize equity and student outcomes at higher education institutions

Thursday & Friday, September 26-27: Student Debt (Black Student Borrowers) & Federal Student Aid (Pell)

Our current system of higher education leaves an unconscionable share of students of color with limited economic opportunities, struggling with debt they can’t afford and denied access to the American dream. This is particularly true for Black borrowers, who have a 50-50 chance of defaulting on a federal loan within 12 years of entering college. Perhaps most telling is the fact that Black bachelor’s degree completers are more likely to default on federal loans (21 percent) than White college dropouts (18 percent). Racial gaps in degree attainment and loan repayment are the result of factors including, by no means limited to, pervasive and persistent disparities in postsecondary access and success, rising tuition, insufficient and underfunded grant programs, underfunding of the schools and colleges students of color attend, predatory practices within the for-profit sector of higher education, discrimination in the workforce, and massive racial wealth gaps that represent the continued legacy of slavery. These factors often created and/or reinforced through policies.

By participating in the seminar, attendees will:

  • Discuss emerging proposals that impact Black student borrowers (e.g., Sen. Alexander’s loan repayment proposal)
  • Strategize alternative frameworks for confronting Black student debt, such as structural barriers that maintain uninterrupted racial inequality
  • Share ideas and proposals for advancing educational equity, addressing racial disparities in student debt

The Pell Grant is the cornerstone of federal financial aid. Created in 1972 as the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant, the Pell program now benefits over 7.5 million students and continues to serve as the primary federal effort to open the door to college for low-income students and students of color. However, the Pell Grant’s impact is shrinking as the maximum award has failed to keep pace with the rapidly rising cost of college. The purchasing power of the Pell Grant has dropped dramatically since the program’s inception. In 1980, the maximum Pell Grant award covered 77 percent of the cost of attendance at a public university; while today, it covers about 29 percent, the lowest portion in over 40 years. Going forward, the problem will be increasingly exacerbated by the expiration of automatic inflation adjustments at the end of fiscal year 2017.

If the maximum award continues to be frozen at its current level, the Pell Grant will cover just one-fifth of college costs in 10 years. And while the program has historically been insulated from cuts thanks to a surplus fund, lawmakers have begun rescinding a significant portion of those funds to cover unrelated costs, imperiling the future of the program. It is therefore more important than ever to advocate for the protection and strengthening of the federal Pell Grant program.

By participating in the seminar, attendees will:

  • Learn more about the mechanics of the Pell Grant program and its current functions
  • Discuss emerging proposals for altering the Pell Grant program (e.g. short-term Pell, Pell bonus)
  • Identify critical implications of proposed legislation to the Pell Grant program

Friday, January 31, 2020: Engaging Student Voices and Activism

One of the most monumental levers for change is the student voice. Throughout history, students have led protests — sit-ins, boycotts, and marches — to not only defy racism and discrimination, but influence social justice issues and local and global politics. Recently, we’ve seen student activism show itself in issues such as gun control, criminal justice reform, and police brutality — which has resulted in the surge of young people’s influential power in public policies.

What’s mostly missing in higher education is policymakers tapping into students, to collaborate and push forward equity in higher education policy. But an example of collaborative success is happening with the free college movement. Yet, there are more opportunities to amplify the student voice in a wide array of higher education policies.

By participating in the seminar, attendees will:

  • Learn more about the impact of student activism on equitable change
  • Strategize ways for leveraging students’ voice in decision-making
  • Discuss lessons learned from students and higher education policy advocates to incorporate in higher education work

Friday, February 28, 2020: Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs)

Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) include Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and Asian American and Native Pacific Islander- Serving Institutions (AANAPISI). Combined, they enrolled nearly 5 million students of color, 28 percent of all undergraduates in the higher education system. Moreover, in a recent study, researchers found that completion rates for MSIs were higher than the federal rate suggested. MSIs are not only growing in size and capacity, but continuing to provide access for students of color pursuing postsecondary education.

It is critical to understand how MSIs fit in the higher education landscape, since they have a substantial impact on students’ of color success. There is also ample opportunity to learn from MSIs, who have already begun to implement policies that are centered on student success by: investing their MSI grant funding into the creation of student support centers; using learning communities to create environments that provide assistance for students transferring from remedial to college-level courses; providing cultural competency professional development opportunities for faculty to better understand the backgrounds and needs of their students.

By participating in the seminar, attendees will:

  • Be able to define and understand what a Minority Serving Institution (MSI) is in-depth
  • Discuss current critical policies and its implications on MSIs (e.g. accountability, free college)
  • Identify opportunities that policymakers are not considering to advance accessible and affordable higher education