Level Up: Leveraging Explicit Value for Every Black Learner, Unapologetically

Mar 22, 2023
  • Description

Education is one of the strongest vehicles to economic prosperity and overall increased quality of life; even so its structure is riddled with unaddressed systemic barriers that data show most harshly implicates Black learners. To address this requires a holistic approach driven by acknowledgement and understanding that the current structures in place are not serving Black learners well.

Alarmingly, over the last 20 years, the nation has lost 300,000 Black learners from the community college system, with participation rates among Black students lower today than they were 20 years ago — a documented and drastic decline in access and enrollment long before the wide-reaching effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. When looking across all sectors roughly 600,000 Black learners have disappeared from American higher education's great "open door."

Clearly, this decline is not occurring because Black learners are choosing to pursue other postsecondary options. Nor are Black learners opting to enter the workforce for "good" jobs. The decline is also not because the Black population is shrinking. In fact, the Black young adult population (18-34 years old) has steadily grown since 2000. The value proposition of postsecondary education is increasingly murky for Black learners — both in Black learner perception and societal reality.

To be clear, the onus is not on Black learners. 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. Black learners must have postsecondary options that ensure the value proposition of higher education for them. Delivering on this overdue right requires mobilizing core commitments with shared ownership among federal and state policymakers; local communities and their community colleges and other institutions of higher education; and philanthropic champions.

Realizing these commitments represents the cornerstone of a new, equitable foundation for Black learner excellence in higher education and beyond.