Confronting Racial Inequalities in Higher Education 

Together, our hearts are heavy. And, together we must take action. The protests across the country are not only about the wrongful killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and too many others. There are long standing inequalities across many systems; health disparities resulting in higher rates of death for Black people from COVID-19, higher rates of incarceration, lower wages, and higher unemployment rates for Black men and women. These protests and this movement are about the systemic racism against the Black community for hundreds of years.

Higher education is not exempt from these unjust inequities. Black students are measurably less likely to persist and graduate in higher education than their White peers. Black students borrow more in student loans and are more likely to default on that debt, leading to steeper barriers for educational, career, and financial success. This must change. 

Higher Learning Advocates stands with Black Americans, for whom these are neither new problems nor a new reality. It’s time to directly and actively address the issues of racism and racial inequities head on, from the leadership position we have in shaping education policy and advocating for today’s students. For Higher Learning Advocates, this means changing how we address issues of race in higher education and federal policy. 

Higher Learning Advocates is a steadfastly bipartisan advocacy organization. But this doesn’t mean sitting out of complex and difficult national conversations that might be divisive. Supporting the success of all of today’s students, and especially those who have traditionally been left behind by systems, policies, and culture, is not a partisan agenda; it is a student-focused agenda. We will use our organization’s mission and platform to advance policies that support the success of today’s students, especially Black students who are disproportionately underserved by today’s higher education system. Some actions we are taking include:

  • First and foremost, staying committed to educating ourselves in the many ways postsecondary and workforce systems leave Black students and other students of color behind, and to listening without interruption to the people for whom we advocate;
  • Supporting the work of and consistently learning from people and organizations who have long advocated for policy change for Black students;
  • Collaborating to determine an approach to addressing the everyday higher learning inequities and systemic barriers that stand in the way of  people of color and Black Americans, in particular;
  • Examining, establishing recommendations, and advocating for policy change to ensure  Black students and other students of color will no longer be systemically left behind. 

Higher Learning Advocates is already dedicated to addressing the overall systemic inequities in our postsecondary system, but we can do more as it relates to elevating the needs of today’s Black students and other students of color who are disproportionately impacted by those inequities; it is not sufficient to say that we need to do more for all of today’s students. We will only achieve our mission when we elevate the needs of those most often and severely impacted by the inequities of the current higher learning system.