To stem Black student attrition, higher ed needs to make decisions with these learners in mind


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Dive Brief:

  • To reverse a decade-long trend of attrition in Black college students, higher education leaders need to structure programs and policies with Black learners in mind, according to the Community for Black Learner Excellence, a new coalition focused on research and policy.
  • The group, which on Wednesday released a report aimed at increasing Black student enrollment and retention, focused on four core tenets: bringing transparency to higher ed costs, offering academic and social supports, creating a sense of shared ownership around Black student success, and establishing teaching practices based on feedback from Black students.
  • “To be clear, the onus is not on Black learners,” the report said. “State and federal institutions and policymakers at all levels have a responsibility to ensure that places of higher education are accessible and welcoming to all, regardless of a student’s race or background.”

Dive Insight:

Higher education has lost 600,000 Black students in the past decade, about half of them from community colleges, according to the report. Two-year institutions are especially important for Black learners as they offer more affordable pathways to reliable credentials, the group said.

The coalition aims to get more colleges engaged on Black student success and hold institutions accountable for that success, according to Keith Curry, chair of the group’s expert advisory committee and president of Compton College, in California, a leader in the community college space.

“Our system structures have failed these students. Now it’s time for us to redevelop the system structures in order for them to be successful,” he said on a call with reporters Wednesday.

Among Black Americans, 80% think college is unaffordable, according to the report. And the difference between a college’s sticker price and what students actually pay has only exacerbated confusion around cost. The report recommends that colleges offer transparent pricing structures and only charge what students can afford without going into unmanageable levels of debt.

Transparency should also extend to a degree’s value on the job market, the report said. 

“Human capital is the name of the game. Today we have people without opportunities and opportunities without people,” former U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said on Wednesday. Spellings now runs Texas 2036, a state-focused think tank, and serves as an adviser to the Community for Black Learner Excellence.

Colleges that partner with employers will be better able to position students for success while helping hiring managers address labor shortages, the report said. And a strong track record of post-degree employment will also help rebuild Black students’ confidence in higher education, something the coalition said is sorely needed.


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