- The Boston Globe — as part of a major “Spotlight” investigation into racism in Boston’s major institutions — found that black student enrollment at the city’s 10 largest universities hovers around 5%, almost unchanged since 1980.
- When asked about the lack of diversity, officials at Boston’s colleges and universities cite an increased number of international students, which has exploded in the last decade. Students from abroad now total more than double the number black Americans at Boston colleges.
- A recent National Student Clearinghouse report on enrollment and completion trends in U.S. higher education found black students represent the only group that is more likely to stop out or discontinue enrollment than to complete a credential within six years.
The high price of education is pushing more and more deserving low-income students away from a key vehicle of upward mobility. Two separate analyses, by the American Council on Education and the New America think tank, found a shrinking number of low-income college enrollees at top institutions across the country.
Black students, who tend to come from lower-income households, are especially disadvantaged by costs. The average net worth of black families is $17, 600 or several thousand dollars short of the yearly cost to attend a four-year university. For colleges, educating this vulnerable class is difficult and costly as they face a myriad challenges stemming from the start of their educations.
However, it isn’t just black students who are underrepresented on campus. A second report from the National Student Clearinghouse found enrollment in U.S. higher education down across the board, but much of this is propelled by a decline in adult learners.
Learners between ages 18 and 24 also remained mostly level; part of this could be explained by the surging economy (the unemployment rate recently hit a 17-year low), and when the economy is good, there is less of an imperative for individuals to return to campus. But part of the problem could be that traditional higher ed has still not figured out how to best serve these students, leading them to seek alternative credentialing programs or corporate-led training opportunities.
Former University of Phoenix President Bill Pepicello said in a recent conversation with Education Dive one of his biggest gripes about higher education is that the industry is "not keeping up with society" in the transition to digital and online integration, which is key to meeting the needs of adult learners.
If colleges want to continue selling themselves as places of diversity and social uplift, they must work aggressively to understand and combat the barriers that hinder the ability of poor students, students of color and adult students to enroll and complete college successfully. In a global economy, maintaining a skilled workforce is central to America’s competitive edge, and experts say doing so requires that colleges are able to educate diverse groups of people from all walks of life.
Autumn A. Arnett contributed to this piece.