New Federal Policies and Changes Pose Threats to College Access

WASHINGTON, D.C. – At a recent briefing on Capitol Hill, the UCLA Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles released five newly commissioned studies demonstrating the threats to college access for students of color imposed by current and proposed policies under the current administration.

The UCLA Civil Rights Project (CRP) is a nonpartisan research center and leading source of information on college opportunity. The newly released studies document what Project Co-Director Gary Orfield calls “a pattern of closing the college gates and breaking trust with Black, Latino and American Indian students at a time when students of color will soon be the majority of the college-age population in this country.”

As the largest source of student aid and the most important enforcer of civil rights laws, the Federal government has a major role in determining who is able to go to college and whether there will be opportunity for all. The CRP studies show that the Trump Administration and the current Congress have proposed a series of moves that outline a disturbing pattern of increasing college barriers for students of color and cumulative threats to the institutions dedicated to serving them. Following are summaries and key findings from the studies.

* Boston College Professor, Andres Castro Samayoa analyzes the President’s proposals for Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs), which serve about 40% of all students of color. In both of his budgets President Trump proposed substantial cuts to every single program set up by law to aid these critical institutions, with the largest cut being to the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s), in spite of an Executive Order and a Presidential meeting that promised priority for those campuses. Every single program serving MSIs had a reduced budget in Trump’s request. His administration in its first year asked Congress, for example, to sharply cut federal funding by $95 million. The largest requested reduction to a single program was for the Strengthening Historically Black Colleges fund ($465,000).

* Research by Erin S. Corbett, EdD and Julie Ajinkya, PhD of the Institute for Higher Education Policy, shows that a successful effort to provide educational opportunities to incarcerated students, so they can later obtain a job and earn a living after their release, is also threatened. Federal data indicates that one-third of black men and one in six Latino males are likely to be incarcerated, the incarcerated rate for women has increased 700% in the past three decades, and there is a direct link between low education and the path to prison. In spite of this, Congress has proposed to cut off funds for the successful “Second Chance” experiment begun in 2016, which utilizes federal student aid grants to prisoners enrolled in educational courses.

* Professors Liliana M. Garces, of the University of Texas, Austin, and OiYan Poon, of Colorado State University, explore and dispel a central argument being pursued by the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ), that Harvard University’s long-standing multidimensional affirmative action plan, first upheld by the Supreme Court 40 years ago, is discriminatory against Asian Americans, who now make up 22% percent of the current freshman class. A central premise and justification for the case is that Asian Americans oppose affirmative action, however Garces and Poon’s research reports that a substantial majority of Asians in two statewide referenda support affirmative action and that a 62% of Asian American undergraduates enrolled at 4-year colleges disagree with efforts to abolish the policy.

* University of Wisconsin Professor, Nicholas Hillman finds that proposed risk-sharing proposals, which require colleges to pay back part of their students’ defaulted loans, would likely reinforce racial and economic inequality by disproportionately impacting students of color and institutions that serve them. Hillman’s analysis of College Scorecard data shows that the campuses with a higher rate of default have student bodies with average family incomes less than a fourth ($19,000) of those at the high repayment campuses ($87,000). This research concludes that such a requirement would put a very great burden on Historically Black Colleges and the Predominantly Black Institutions.

* In their study of for-profit universities, University of Virginia Professor, Brian Pusser and Graduate Student, Matt Ericson summarize an array of scholarly research and evidence demonstrating that for-profit 4-year colleges produce blatantly less effective outcomes for America’s students, families, communities and our higher education system than do nonprofit colleges. In spite of this strong evidence, the pending GOP-sponsored bill would roll back reforms, instituted over the past three decades, that have provided essential protections for students enrolled in for-profit universities. For-profits enrolled a disproportionate share of students of color, who took on large student loan debts. 46% of students enrolled in 4-year for-profits were Black or Hispanic. Almost half (47%) of for-profit students defaulted on their loans, creating a huge cost for the federal government and lifetime debts for the students.

The rate of default for students in 4-year institutions was twice as high for students in for-profits compared to public nonprofits, and more than 2.5 times higher than private nonprofits.

“Although these studies show that the current proposals and changes will worsen the already very unequal access to college for students of color, the researchers recommend reforms that would respond to the goals of the various proposals without causing unintended harm to students of color or to the institutions that serve them,” Orfield concluded. “Today we have started an important dialogue that we must continue.”

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