At a time when a college education is increasingly important for everyone, men of color are increasingly left behind.
That’s the conclusion of a new report by the Kresge Foundation which notes that while community college enrollment declined by 13% overall, enrollment among Black and Native American men declined by nearly twice as much. Between 2017 and 2021, fewer than half of the Black, Native American, and Pacific Islander men enrolled in college graduated.
This is not an individual problem, this is a systemic problem. The economic data is in, and it’s conclusive: when more people can’t fully participate in the economy, the economy drags. But the more people—and the more kinds of people—who can fully participate, the more the economy grows for everyone.
Creating more opportunities for the people left behind propels the economy as a whole.
The Kresge Foundation is right—the higher education system, as it exists, is not doing that. What can we do about it?
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The Kresge report has some ideas, which include requiring all high school students to complete college applications before graduating; increasing accountability among leadership for enrollment and retention outcomes; and establishing industry partnerships for career and technical education programs.
These are great ideas, and it’s significant to us to notice that Calbright has already implemented most of the recommendations the report says educational institutions should adopt. We have already, for example, incorporated equity into the institution’s strategic plan, established industry partnerships with career and technical education programs, and aligned faculty hiring to student equity goals.
These, and more, are things we’re already doing – and that every college should be doing.
However, part of the reason that Calbright is reimagining college is that when we talk to non-traditional students, they are very direct about telling us what they need, and they’re not focused on institutional processes. They want their classes to be accessible, setting learners up for success.
It’s about flexible class schedules so that students can actually take them; it’s about things like eliminating bureaucracy and red tape that get in the way of students getting what they need; it’s about things like giving students access to technology; it’s about providing programs that can be finished quickly so that students can start changing their lives quickly; it’s about getting personal attention so that you have people in your corner and on your side; and, of course, it’s about cost. College needs to be affordable.
The recommendations that the Kresge Foundation has made are vital and should be adapted by every college. But to truly serve disenfranchised students, we also need some colleges to go further. In California, we know what that looks like.