What Will Obama’s Legacy be when it Comes to Diversity on College Campuses?

With less than two years left in office, President Barack Obama still has a lofty agenda when it comes to education in America. From supporting wider access to universal Pre-K all the way up to a proposal for two free years of community college for everyone, President Obama has taken an immersive approach to education that challenges the status quo. When it is all said and done, what will President Obama’s college diversity legacy look like?

More people of color in college leadership positions

Though he has not introduced any official legislation that demands more people of color in leadership spots, the President’s mere presence in the nation’s highest position has paved the way for others to step up in their own industries. I predict a steep rise in minority faculty members, deans and college presidents in the coming decade due indirectly to the example set by this President. His push for more minority graduates will also mean more minority college leaders being fed into university systems.

More minorities graduating from college

The rate of students entering colleges across the nation was already at a record-high when President Obama took office, but so was college debt. Between unchecked student loan interest rates and for-profit universities recruiting non-traditional and minority students without the right support programs in place for those students to graduate, the college landscape had become ineffective for many of the nation’s students. In his tenure, President Obama has worked hard to make the cost of college more affordable, through more federal Pell grants and more federally-backed student loans, as well as loan repayment programs that offer caps on income or loan forgiveness clauses. This has helped all students but an argument can be made that making college more affordable will prove a long-term improvement when it comes to minority graduates who were deterred by the high cost in the first place.

Specifically, President Obama has put minority-friendly programs in place like My Brother’s Keeper that address the specific problems that particular groups face when it comes to obtaining an education. He has also made K-12 schools more accountable for getting their students college-ready with federally-funded incentives like Race to the Top, which focuses on closing the achievement gap between white and minority students. In order to feed colleges more minority students who are ready for the tasks, the grades that come before the college years must be considered – and the President seems get that, and to have a good grasp of the bigger picture of what a college education means for minorities.

More high-skilled minorities in the workforce

With his proposal for tuition-free community college for the first two years for all students, President Obama is ensuring that this next generation of high school graduates will be able to elevate their educations beyond the K-12 years. This applies to all students, but here again is a point where minorities will benefit most. By essentially making the first two years of a college education an extension of the high school years, with some performance requirements attached, minorities will not face the financial roadblock that often accompanies entering college right after high school. Perhaps the area where minorities will see the biggest boost if this proposal becomes law is in the portion that will allow older students who never completed college right after high school to go back to school too. Non-traditional minority students will not have to go the for-profit college route to return to school or find a way to carve out tuition to community colleges from household budgets.

President Obama has always been outspoken about his goals of breaking down barriers in the way of minorities who want to obtain a college education, particularly young men of color. As he completes his term in office, I expect to see him confront these initiatives with even more aggression to cement his legacy as a President that worked hard to improve the diversity on American college campuses.

Click here to read all our posts concerning the Achievement Gap.

Have for-profit schools preyed on minorities?

Turn on your television to any local station during daytime hours, and you’re sure to see a handful of commercials touting the amazing benefits of enrolling in for-profit colleges. These idyllic spots highlight flexible classes, accelerated programs, online classes available from the comfort of home, and more. Usually the information about the particular college is delivered by a once-uneducated person turned career success – often a working dad, or single mom, whose kids are clearly proud of what the parent has accomplished. Obtaining a college education, particularly from the school mentioned, looks so easy to do.

While the description above may seem like the stuff of marketing clichés, it’s a tactic that has worked for many for-profit colleges. Targeting minorities and other non-traditional college students through commercials like these has been the bread-and-butter of for-profit schools for at least the past two decades and those tactics are just now starting to see some legal pushback.

To be clear, not all for-profit colleges are created equal. There are some that boast high graduation rates and seem to have student success at the heart of their endeavors. The very fact that these colleges exist have actually progressed the entire university system in the U.S. by pushing innovative programs, like online degrees, and showing that there truly is a large market for non-traditional college students.

Let’s not kid ourselves though. The non-profit college push is a very thinly-veiled attempt to enroll a volatile market – often the most eligible for federal loan and grant assistance.

The financial facts speak for themselves:

  • As of 2014, for-profit colleges served just 13 percent of total higher education students but received 31 percent of federal student loans due to the minority, at-risk and low-income statuses of their students. Former veterans cashing in GI Bills also attend for-profit schools at higher rates than traditional colleges.
  • The same report from the U.S. Department of Education reports that half of all students who default on their loans attend a for-profit college.

Which leads to the unavoidable question: Have non-profit colleges preyed upon at-risk students for the sake of making a quick buck?

All the right words

One of the reasons for-profit schools have seen such a surge in enrollment in the past two decades can really be pinned on the smart marketing of two words: flexibility and acceleration. For students who simply did not have the funds, nor desire to incur college debt, right after high school, for-profit schools have stepped up as a second chance, of sorts. These colleges are places where non-traditional students can continue to work and take flexible courses, many or all of which are online. Most for-profit schools also offer a faster route to degree attainment, which piques the interest of students who don’t want to dedicate years of their lives to college aspirations but are looking for a way to advance their careers. The University of Phoenix, perhaps the most recognizable name in for-profit online colleges, recently announced a new initiative to count other course work and work experience towards degree attainment. This initiative, and others like it, are designed to recruit students who don’t want to start from square one and don’t have the time to commit to a traditional college experience.

So what is wrong with either of these options? Nothing, in theory. Flexibility and accelerated degrees are a good fit for many students who otherwise could not chase any sort of college degree. Where many non-profits fail their students, however, is in charging astronomical rates and not offering enough support to keep students enrolled until graduation. In essence, these schools market well enough to get the students enrolled in courses but don’t do enough to guide them to their degrees. All the flexibility in the world can’t help a student understand a difficult concept, or learn better time/study management skills. Accelerated programs without mentorship options run the risk of burning students out, especially if they have no inspiration or focus.

It’s clear that the recent outcry for accountability for non-profit colleges is long overdue. Students deserve better than what they’ve been served by these institutions, and quite frankly, so does the entire American population. It’s time for these schools to deliver on their promise of career success for those who enroll – and that starts with student support that extends beyond recruitment.

Educational Change Starts with Equality

By Matthew Lynch

Substantial educational change will never occur until we as a country decide that enough is enough and make a commitment to change, no matter what it takes. When America realizes all children deserve a stellar education regardless of who their parents are, their socioeconomic status or where they happen to live, we will be able to reform our education system. Specifically, Americans have to stop treating minority students in underperforming urban environments like collateral damage.

The disheartening reality is that America has billions of dollars to fight a two-front war, but cannot or will not properly educate its children. If a hostile country attacked the U. S., it would take less than 24 hours for American troops to be mobilized into battle. However, we seem unable to mobilize a sea of educated teachers and administrators to wage war against academic mediocrity, which is a bigger threat to our national security than Iran or North Korea.

Over the last century, many reform movements have come and gone, but in the end, it seems, there have been no substantial changes. Some might even believe the American educational system is now worse off than ever. That’s because the word “reform” is primarily used as campaign rhetoric, and when it comes time to take real action, the politicians simply unveil a grandiose plan with all the bells and whistles amounting to a dog and pony show. There has been a lot of talk about educating our kids, but not a lot of action. This is especially true when it comes to groups of at-risk or disenfranchised students, like minorities.

America’s schools were originally intended to ensure that all citizens were literate but it seems today that in some districts, and for some students, even this concept is not taking place. When you add on the additional constraints of K-12 education today, it becomes quickly clear why some students fall through the cracks and are not able to achieve the type of education that should be a right for all American children.

Americans must have the courage to realize that in order for us to remain a world power, we must institute change. It is not enough for just some of our kids to succeed; each one must make it across the high school graduation stage, knowing what their peers also across the country also learned during the journey. The risks have never been greater: the future of our country and its children is at stake.

Education reform is possible, but it depends on what the nation is willing to do to achieve its educational goals. Will America develop and pass effective educational legislation aimed at creating viable solutions to the problem at hand? Or will America continue to develop legislation, such as No Child Left Behind, that operates under the fallacy that 100% of our students will be proficient in their core subjects by the end of 2014? The bar for education should be set higher, but there has to be exceptions and differentiated goals in order to effectively accommodate all the differences among teachers, students, administrators, and school cultures.


What can be done to improve the success of black male students?

Did you know that a black male is more likely than any other group to be placed in special education classes, with 80 percent of all special education students being Black or Hispanic males?

Learning disabilities aside, black students (and particularly boys) experience disconnection when it comes to the authority figures in their classrooms. The K-12 teaching profession is dominated by white women, many who are very qualified and very interested in helping all their students succeed but lack the first-hand experience needed to connect with their Black male students.

Therefore, it is not surprising that the disadvantages that Black boys bring to their schools aren’t corrected in K-12 classrooms, they are furthered. As they get older, they are continually marginalized in their schools and societies – given less-than-adequate access to the resources that their already advantaged peers receive. While the connection between items like reading scores and civic responsibility may not seem well defined on the surface, they are related and that relationship is integral to turning the tide for Black boys in America

It has been shown over and over again that punishment for Black boys – even first-time offenders – in schools is harsher than any other demographic. Consider these facts:

Schools with majority Black students also tend to have lower amounts of teachers who are certified in their degree areas. A U.S. Department of Education report found that in schools with at least 50 percent Black students, only 48 percent were certified in the subject, compared with 65 percent in majority white schools. In English, the numbers were 59 and 68 percent, respectively and in science, they were 57 percent and 73 percent.

No wonder they aren’t in college

These trends are not conducive to improving the numbers of young black men who are able to attend college. In fact, the numbers are dismal when it comes to black young men who attend and graduate from colleges in the U.S. Statistically speaking, black men have the lowest test scores, the worst grades and the highest dropout rates – in K-12 education, and in college too.  The recognition of this educational crisis has led to some strong initiatives targeted at young black men with the intention of guiding them through the college years and to successful, productive lives that follow.

Which is why college motivation within and without the black community is so vital for these young men. At this point in the nation’s history, they are in the greatest need for the lifestyle change that higher education can provide, and not just for individual growth, but also for the benefit of the entire nation.

It is clear that improving the successful admission into college and subsequent acquisition of professional degrees would go a long way toward improving the outlook for these young men in crisis.  But, change needs to start early on and involve the entire school system as well as the community as a whole.

Do you think earlier targeting when it comes to young Black men and higher education would impact the number of students?

3 Initiatives Designed to Help Minorities Succeed in College

It seems that graduating from high school is no longer the end goal of P-12 learning – earning a college degree has replaced it. By 2018, 60 percent of jobs will require a college degree. On Monday, I wrote about the nationwide average high school graduation rate being 80 percent – which is admirable but also means that at least 1 in 5 kids won’t make it to college classes. When you factor in the high school graduates that bypass college completely, it seems that at some point America’s workforce will simply not be able to meet the demands of its employers. When it comes to minorities who graduate high school and are ready for the rigor of college coursework, numbers are bleak.

A new report from the College of Education at the University of Arizona found that less than 1 in 10 minority high school graduates in the state are adequately prepared for college. Non-minority students are not much better off though, with only 2 in 10 prepared for college after graduating from high school. A rise over the past 15 years in minority students in elementary and high school in state, as well as economic disparities between students of color and their white peers, are cited in the study as drivers behind the high school graduation-college readiness gap.

There are several methods that have been proposed to help minorities have better access to education. Here are just three of them.

  1. College scorecards and higher affordability. In 2014, Obama proposed the implementation of a rating system that would provide the general public with greater details about the total cost, graduation rates and alumni earnings of individual colleges and universities.

The program has since been nixed thanks to opposition from lawmakers and university heads, but the idea was that students choosing schools with higher ratings would have more access to Pell Grants and affordable loan programs. The plan was twofold in nature – first, getting more useful information into the hands of consumers and second, providing better affordability for young people who seek out higher education.

The rising cost of a college degree has been a concern of the Obama administration throughout both terms in the White House. College graduates in 2010 left their schools with an average of $26,000 in debt, leading to higher student loan debt in America than credit card debt. In order to reach his goal of leading the world in percentage of college graduates by 2020, Obama has been vocal about lowering the cost of the college process and providing more targeted, useful programs that address the needs of the economy.

This new “college scorecard” proposal was meant to one more step in that direction. Like public K-12 schools, colleges would be held more accountable by the federal government and would be compared to each other through data that truly matters.

Numerous publications claim to have the perfect formula in place for ranking the “best colleges and universities” based on a variety of factors but none are officially sanctioned by the government. The President’s ranking plan would avoid the fluff of other rating systems and address the core of educational matters: cost, graduation success and chances for achievement in the career that follows. These are the real stats that all students, whether recent high school graduates or those returning to campus for the first time in a few decades, need to make informed decisions.

In terms of minority students, the college ranking plan would have been beneficial. Though minority college student numbers are rising, 61 percent of college students in 2010 were considered Caucasian in comparison to just 14 percent Black students, 13 percent Hispanic students and 6 percent Asian or Pacific Islander students. Based on these statistics alone, minority students are at a disadvantage when it comes to attending and graduating from college. Every student situation is different but the cost of college and accompanying loan interest rates certainly play into the unbalanced collective college population.

This idea will not be implemented, but it’s still easy to see how a rankings system that effectively provides more grant money and more affordable loan options to students will make the dream of a college education a reality to more minorities. As more first-generation minorities attend colleges, choosing schools with high graduation rates (many of which likely have strong guidance policies in place) and good job placement will mean more career successes.

  1. Online class offerings. Each year online learning initiatives become less of a fringe movement and more of an incorporated, and accepted, form of education. More than 6.7 million people took at least one online class in the fall of 2011 and 32 percent of college students now take at least one online course during their matriculation. It is even becoming commonplace for high schools to require all students to take an online class before graduation as a way to prep them for the “real world” of secondary education.

The flexibility and convenience of online learning is well known but what is not as readily talked about is the way distance education promotes diversity of the college population. With less red tape than the traditional college format, online students are able to earn credits while still working full time, maintaining families and dealing with illnesses. Whether students take just one course remotely, or obtain an entire degree, they are able to take on the demands of college life more readily – leading to student population with more variety.

The Babson Survey Research Group recently revealed that while online college student enrollment is on the rise, traditional colleges and universities saw their first drop in enrollment in the ten years the survey has been conducted. This drop is small – less than a tenth of one percent – but its significance is big. A trend toward the educational equality of online curriculum is being realized by students, institutions and employers across the board. The benefits of a college education through quality online initiatives are now becoming more accessible to students that simply cannot commit to the constraints of a traditional campus setting.

  1. Free community college. During his sixth State of the Union address, President Barack Obama spelled out a proposal that would offer two years of community college for free to any student that wanted to take advantage of it. Once enrolled, these students would need to maintain a 2.5 grade-point average, stay enrolled at least half time and be on track to graduate on time to keep receiving the tuition-free access.

This program would, essentially, make the first two years of a college education a basic American right – aligning it with universal access to a K-12 (and even pre-K in some states) education. Of course there would be some requirements for having access to that right and it would not be mandatory, but the basic premise would be the same: free higher education for any American student.

Arguably this plan helps everyone in the long run. More Americans with access to a college education means a stronger economy and less college debt means more money in the pockets of college graduates that they can then pump back into that economy. Proponents of the plan say that it will particularly help minorities when it comes to college attendance because it removes the cost barrier that tends to discourage these groups from enrolling.

What do you think are some other initiatives that will help make more individuals from minority groups ready for college?

Click here to read all our posts concerning the Achievement Gap.

Beyond Athletics: Three Other Ways to Recruit Minority College Students

We’ve all heard the fairytale stories before: a minority kid from a tough neighborhood gets a shot at a college career because he or she is recruited for a particular sport. Not only do these athletes get to show off their physical talent, but they get a college degree and a more promising future in the process. Listen, I’m all for athletes landing athletic scholarships if it means that more minority college students earn a college degree. But I also know that stories like these, while intentionally heartwarming and media friendly, do not represent the vast majority of minorities with college aspirations. Athletes get a lot of the attention, but if colleges and universities are truly committed to diverse populations of students then they need to put the steps in place to make it easier for all minorities to earn a college degree.

A few of the areas where I think universities could improve on minority programs and recruitment include:

Arts recruiting.

Just as scouts go out and recruit the best basketball or football players for teams, the same should happen with minority students who show promise in the arts. Theater, musical performance, sculpting, painting, film studies and even creative writing – minority students who have talent in these areas should be given attention and invited to college programs. Why arts programs over more practical careers in STEM or healthcare? Minority students with arts passions often feel forced to abandon them in favor of immediate jobs or things that are simply not their passions. Arts careers are considered “silly” for white peers, but almost irresponsible for minority students. This should change and colleges should take the lead on it.

Mentorship programs.

There are some minority students who come from a home where one or both parents are college graduates but those odds are lower than their white peers. All first-generation college students face different challenges and expectations than those for whom college acceptance, success and graduation has always been expected. During the recruiting process, colleges should tout their mentorships programs and make sure minority and first-generation students are aware of the support they will receive when they decide to attend. As much as possible, these mentorship programs should work on matching students based on race, gender and career industry – though aligning all of that is admittedly difficult. Using the same mentor for several students is an option. Particularly in the case of minority students, mentors are generally overjoyed to be able to help a young person succeed. Colleges just need to be asking for that help and then expressing that it exists to their potential minority students.

Creative financial aid.

College is expensive and for students who have to pay for it on their own while supporting themselves, it can be overwhelming. There are no shortage of loans that students can take out to help finance their college careers, but saddling them with debt before they even set foot in the work world can be a recipe for disaster. Colleges that truly want a diverse population of students who succeed after graduation should look into adding more minority scholarships. The “pay it forward” college payment system that is implemented in certain states like Oregon should be considered for wider adoption, especially when it comes to attracting minority and first-generation students to college campuses. College does not need to be completely free in order for more minorities to attend and graduate. It does need to be affordable, though, and that takes some thinking out the normal financial aid box.

Athletes who earn college degrees are certainly inspirational but they are only a small portion of the minorities who want the type of education a college or university can provide. If we really want equality on our college campuses then it will take more than touting the success of our minority football, basketball and track stars. We need to find ways to translate that same success across interests and disciplines, and to give those students the support they need to truly succeed. Part of that process is to make college more affordable for all students. Another piece of that puzzle is targeting areas that are often overshadowed by athletics, like the arts. By understanding the true picture of what potential minority college students are like, colleges and universities can get more of them on campus or enrolling online.

How do you think more minority college students can be recruited?

Will Free Community College Help Minorities Succeed?

By Matthew Lynch

During his sixth State of the Union address, President Barack Obama spelled out a proposal that would offer two years of a free community college education to any student that wanted to take advantage of it. Once enrolled, these students would need to maintain a 2.5 grade-point average, stay enrolled at least half time and be on track to graduate on time to keep receiving the tuition-free access.

This program would, essentially, make the first two years of a college education a basic American right – aligning it with universal access to a K-12 (and even pre-K in some states) education. Of course there would be some requirements for having access to that right and it would not be mandatory, but the basic premise would be the same: free higher education for any American student.

Arguably this plan helps everyone in the long run. More Americans with access to a college education means a stronger economy and less college debt means more money in the pockets of college graduates that they can then pump back into that economy. Proponents of the plan say that it will particularly help minorities when it comes to college attendance because it removes the cost barrier that tends to discourage these groups from enrolling.

I say that access to free community college will not actually help minorities – at least not on its own.

We know that there is an achievement gap in P-12 learning and that black students drop out of high school at a rate that is twice as high as white students (for Hispanic students is over three times as high). This happens despite these minorities having access to the same opportunities (in theory) as their white counterparts. A public education is free to these students, yet minority students still drop out of high school at rates that are simply too high. So the assumption that offering free college classes and credits will be a better situation for minorities is flawed, based on what we know about educational access and its influence on achievement in younger grades.

We need more than free access to community college to help minorities succeed in higher education settings. Starting in our K-12 schools, we need better targeting of struggling students and remedial interventions that take effect immediately, not after a standardized assessment points out that a student is already failing. We need mentorship programs, both at the high school and community college level, where minority students can connect with the success stories of people who look like they do and came from similar backgrounds. We need more people of color who enter the teaching profession – particularly black males – so that minority students see themselves somewhere in the education process and so more attention is paid to the cultural differences that influence learning environments.

When these minority students enroll in community college, we need orientation programs that last an entire semester or year that keep students on track and accountable and ward off any issues that may cause them to quit too soon. We need a job-based focus that funnels students into the right classes at the right times and keeps them on target for their end goals. We need better guidance processes, mentorship programs, job placement results and awareness of the distinct issues minority students face when they arrive in college classrooms. If all of these things work in conjunction with the free access to community college classes then we may just be on to something.

Money is not the only barrier that keeps minorities from enrolling in and finishing college classes. Removing that obstacle is certainly a step in the right direction but needs other supporting initiatives to really achieve its aim: a diverse highly-educated American public.

Click here to read all our posts concerning the Achievement Gap.