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A policy road map that guides students of color to success, from Pre-K through College

Two high school girls working on STEM project in class

One year ago, the 2023 Supreme Court decided to do away with affirmative action, which has had a chilling domino effect on race-conscious policies across the country. The immediate fallout spurred the anti-DEI movement, which has already had devastating consequences, as certain states and institutions are now eliminating the consideration of race in admissions, financial aid, scholarships, small business grants, and hiring. Lesser known is that this SCOTUS decision also has far-reaching implications for younger students, well before any high schooler even thinks about applying for college. P-12 education is also vulnerable to attacks on race, ethnicity, and identity, and students of color have to overcome racial and ethnic barriers even at a young age.

However, with strategic advocacy, this turn of events could open policy windows at both the state and federal levels that could spur the evolution of P-16 policies and practices, removing barriers that have traditionally impacted students of color and students from low-income backgrounds, without having to rely on affirmative action.

Without affirmative action, the future looks bleak. In states that had already banned affirmative action, research has shown that policies have led to increases in enrollment of students of color at for-profit institutions, decreases in attainment of students of color in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), and decreases in enrollment of students of color at selective institutions. What’s more, expansive application of the law or judicial ruling, into areas well beyond legal requirements have made admissions officers wary of the appearance of not being “race-neutral” and concerned about potential legal action, undermining their support of students of color.

But advocates can leverage this political moment, by identifying opportunities in at the state and federal level that will increase the chances of success for students of color. Here, we provide a roadmap to advance policies that create holistic opportunities for students of color that will allow them to thrive in college and career.

P-12 Priorities

At the state level, advocates should leverage the following policies to improve student outcomes: early childhood education, fair school funding, access to advanced courseswork and college career readiness, teacher diversity, mandatory FAFSA applications, and postsecondary pathways to success.

Universal Pre-K

High-quality, universal early childhood education programs for three- and four-year olds are essential to prepare students for kindergarten and show benefits throughout students’ academic career and well into adulthood. Half a dozen states still have no public preschool program, and many states are failing to serve large numbers of students; EdTrust research found that, well before the pandemic, Black and Latino three- and four-year olds had too little access to high-quality, state-funded preschool programs.

Fair School Funding Formulas

Research shows that increased school funding can lead to improved student outcomes. There have been significant funding formula improvements in both Michigan and Tennessee, illustrating the policy opportunity. (To see how your state or district’s funding formula fares, check out our interactive tool.)

Access to Advanced Coursework

An important time to get students thinking about their future paths is in middle school.  Automatic enrollment in advanced coursework is a simple solution that could yield positive results, with more Black and Latino students taking AP classes, especially in STEM courses, of which they are traditionally shut out. And in high school, dual enrollment — which allows high school students to receive college credit in certain courses — enhances student attainment, postsecondary outcomes, and increases their chances of successfully transitioning to and completing postsecondary education.

College Career Readiness

An improved college career readiness framework with intentional exposure to career and educational opportunities can help students develop a clear understanding of interests and skills, make informed decisions about their future, and close opportunity gaps for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds.

Postsecondary Pathways

Intentional postsecondary pathways, designed to provide comprehensive support, starting with community college, can significantly improve post-high school outcomes by providing relevant skills and credentials, enhancing economic mobility, and increasing access to higher-paying jobs.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is up for reauthorization at the federal level. While the likelihood of reauthorization in the next two years is not likely, there are opportunities to advance and strengthen K-12 education by improving funding, investments in pathways and career and technical education, and enhancing school accountability to encourage state policy priorities without independent state action.

A Diverse Teacher Workforce

Access to diverse educators positively impacts student outcomes. Recent federal investments in the Augustus F. Hawkins Center of Excellence invest in minority-serving institutions promise to improve the pipeline for educators of color, and advocacy to push for continued appropriations are the key to improving access. (Check out if your state is prioritizing teacher diversity with our interactive tool.)

FAFSA as a High School Graduation Requirement

Making high school seniors fill out the the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as a graduation requirement, with support, promises to increase postsecondary enrollment and removes a barrier for students from low-income backgrounds and students of color. More financial aid equates to more students of color being able to enroll in colleges and universities they may not have otherwise.

Higher Education Priorities

At the state level, a comprehensive policy approach that creates universal access should be leveraged and intentionally integrated into pathways from P-12. The following policies should be prioritized: direct admissions, statewide free college programs, and higher education funding formulas.

Direct Admissions & Test-Optional Policies

Direct admissions programs leverage statewide longitudinal data systems to admit students to college automatically. As adopted in Idaho, the model leverages public higher education and provides every high school senior with an admissions offer. There is no application fee, and the application is universal. This same model can be adopted for two-to-four-year transfer. Paired with test-optional policies — which makes submitting SAT and ACT scores optional for college applicants — this approach creates universal access and promotes diversity inherently.

Statewide Free-College Programs

A statewide free college program, paired with the above design elements, can remove one of the biggest obstacles students face, affordability, and research has shown increases in enrollment.

Higher Education Funding Formulas

Public funding for higher education overwhelmingly underfunds the institutions serving the most low-income students and students of color. Leveraging outcomes-based funding formula promises to provide additional resources to the institutions serving students who may need additional resources. States like Texas and Oregon have adopted policies and provide a roadmap for other states.

The Higher Education Act (HEA)

At the federal level, HEA is long overdue for reauthorization but not likely in the next two years. Advocacy should continue pushing for more significant investments in Pell Grants, codification and continued investment in the College Completion Fund, and investments in campus climate studies to ensure that all students feel welcome on college campuses or incorporating racial climate studies in accreditation. Also, a continued push for a federal/state partnership that makes college tuition free is a universal approach to affordability that could replace the state approach. Additionally, consideration should be given to strengthening accountability, given the research on enrollment at for-profit colleges. Finally, investments in minority-serving institutions can support the institutions that enroll the most students of color.

At a time when enrollment in higher education has been on a decline, taking steps at both the state and federal level are crucial to gain lost ground as a result of the pandemic are key to advancing access to higher education for students of color.


By: Wil Del Pilar
Title: A Policy Roadmap That Steers Students of Color to Success, From Pre-K Through College
Sourced From: edtrust.org/the-equity-line/policy-roadmap-students-color-success/
Published Date: Sat, 29 Jun 2024 10:00:48 +0000

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