New Report Out On Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education

Anyone involved in education can tell you that there are starkly disparate outcome patterns, on a number of different measures, for students of different races in this country. Last week, the American Council on Education (ACE) released a report, Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education, which provides a wealth of information on the educational pathways of students by racial and ethnic subgroups.

The report highlights numerous important comparisons and trends—far too many to list them all here. But as someone who works at a learning, measurement, and navigation nonprofit, two especially stood out to me during the launch event for the report:

  • Data on Native Hawai’ian/Pacific Islander and Native Alaskan/Native American students are particularly sparse. As panelist Cecilia Rios-Aguilar, associate dean of equity, diversity, and inclusion and an associate professor of education at the University of California, Los Angeles, noted, quoting a recent publication by the American Indian College Fund, “Invisibility is the modern form of racism against Native Americans.” When data are a little messy or collected on only a few students in a subgroup, it is not responsible to share the results for that entire subgroup, as any conclusions may not be accurate or the small number of group members may make it possible to identify individuals. No group, particularly those who have been marginalized and overlooked for far too long, should be represented by only an asterisk in a table of important information.
  • African-American students are much more likely to leave college without earning a degree—and in greater debt—than the general population. This is true regardless of whether the college is public, private nonprofit, or for-profit, and the debt encompasses both dollars per borrower and percentage of the population borrowing. African-American students are also far more likely to attend for-profit colleges, which contributes to their high student debt levels. The most underserved students are the ones who can most benefit from assistance in selecting a college that will best help them graduate, on time, with a manageable amount of student debt.

These patterns are a travesty, and ACE’s report serves to highlight the urgency of reversing them. In the first instance, we must ensure that both disparities between and achievement of students from all subgroups can be highlighted by high-quality data, with care taken both to protect student privacy and to resist drawing sweeping conclusions from insufficient data. In the second instance, it is imperative that we show all students a clear pathway to and through postsecondary education, helping them pick an institution best suited to their needs so that when they start a degree program, they finish it.

The presenters at the report launch have inspired me to think more about how my organization can better contribute to eliminating achievement and opportunity gaps in our nation’s schools, including through our own research like the Racial Heterogeneity Project. I hope this report spurs others to do the same.