- The arm of the U.S. Department of Education charged with investigating and resolving reports of discrimination in schools received more than 3,000 complaints related to colleges in fiscal 2021.
- The Education Department shared the figure with Higher Ed Dive as its Office for Civil Rights this week released a report detailing how many complaints it received in fiscal 2021. More than 8,900 complaints were filed that year related to K-12 schools and colleges combined, and OCR resolved more than 8,200 complaints, the report states.
- An Education Department spokesperson did not share a breakdown of how many resolved complaints stemmed from colleges.
When students feel a college or K-12 school did not adequately respond to a report of discrimination, they can turn to the Office for Civil Rights. OCR investigates possible violations of federal anti-discrimination laws, including those related to age, disability, or race and national origin.
The newly released report does not break down complaint types received in elementary and secondary schools versus postsecondary institutions.
Nearly half of the complaints OCR fielded involved discrimination based on disability. Another quarter related to complaints of race or national origin discrimination, 17% were sex-based claims, and 11% related to age, according to the report.
The share of complaints involving sex-based discrimination declined from 23% in fiscal 2020, while those related to race-based discrimination rose from 19%, disability-based complaints increased from 45%, and age-based complaints jumped from 3% that fiscal year.
The report references staffing challenges at OCR, noting the number of full-time equivalent employees fell from nearly 1,100 in the 1980sto only 562 in fiscal 2022.
This presents a problem, the report states, as OCR anticipates receiving more than 28,450 complaints in fiscal 2022. That would be 70% more than the current record of 16,720 in fiscal 2016.
OCR says thousands of those increased filings will come from “a small number of complainants,” which the report does not name. Excluding those complaints, OCR projects more than 10,800 complaints in fiscal 2022, still up 22%.
An Education Department spokesperson did not respond to questions about why it separated out those complaints in the report.
OCR has been under the microscope in recent years, as one of its duties is to look into complaints related to Title IX, the law banning sex-based discrimination and sexual violence in federally funded schools.
Title IX has been deeply politicized, starting with guidance the Obama administration issued more than a decade ago that outlined how colleges should investigate and possibly punish reports of sexual misconduct.
Due process activists argued the policies pressured institutions to find accused students responsible for sexual assault. And since then, Title IX has been a political football — the Trump administration instituted a Title IX regulation that took effect in 2020, and the current White House has promised to revoke it, releasing a draft rule of its own last month.
The Biden administration’s iteration of the rule would shield transgender and gay students from discrimination, as well as strengthen protection for pregnant students. It would also give colleges flexibility as to how they want to adjudicate sexual violence cases, such as with a live hearing or through a single official who would investigate and render a decision.