Dominick J. White

Creating Access in an Attempt to level a Gravely Unequal Playing field

After reading the Our Separate & Unequal Public Colleges report from the Georgetown University Center on Education & The Workforce, I am reminded yet again why I decided to pursue my doctoral degree. Our studies of Affirmative Action this week have been very intriguing to me. Its policy and practice have certainly changed over the years, and there are many opinions regarding its existence. As a black male, I can’t help but wonder in what capacities I have benefited from affirmative actions and how I would feel if I knew it to be true. Working in higher education, I have seen just how unequal access to quality education truly is in this country.

Georgetown’s report outlines the unequal access to selective public colleges across the country primarily looking at three races; Latino, Black, and White. They found that while white students make up only about half of the country’s college-age population, white students make up almost two-thirds of selective public colleges’ enrollment. In contrast to that, Black and Latino students make up the majority of open-access colleges. The concern with this reality is that much like K-12 education; funding allocations vary greatly. Typically, open-access colleges are given less funding impacting the resources and student support services they can provide to students, which leads to lower graduation rates. When asked about Black and Latino students’ under-enrollment, leaders of the selective public institutions pointed to admissions requirements, specifically test scores. The fact is that the SAT/ACT has long been noted as a tool to disadvantage underserved and underrepresented populations further. The report suggests ending the reliance on test scores for admissions and allocate additional funding to open-access colleges.

College admission is notorious for heated discussions on affirmative action. I have been to many admissions conferences. Each one will have at least one session, usually multiple, regarding diversifying enrollment or creating college access for historically marginalized groups. The court cases we’ve covered in class this week, Fisher v. University of Texas & the Harvard admissions case, have been significant topics as Admissions officers look to admit increasingly diverse classes. I predict the conversation to continue as we move into a post-COVID era of higher education admission. During the pandemic, most institutions waived the requirement for students to submit standardized test scores. This change in the process, by definition, gave students greater access than has happened in decades. While some are anticipating a return to the SAT/ACT status quo, others like myself are led to believe this is the beginning of the end for standardized testing as we know it for college admission. I would be ecstatic to see us move away from these exams to create a genuinely holistic review process.

We, as higher education professionals, must create opportunities for access in these underserved communities. I think I am positioned well within enrollment management to impact access to higher education as a whole. However, it shouldn’t stop at the doors of our institution. Access work should happen at all levels, regarding student employment, student support services, student organizations, etc. There are so many opportunities for us to remove barriers, and we must act!

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