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How Higher Ed Is Failing Black Americans

The Weekly Dispatch
Stubborn Gaps in the Midwest
Detroit. (Photo by Alex Brisbey on Unsplash)
Detroit. (Photo by Alex Brisbey on Unsplash)
A bunch of recent reports have probed some version of this question: How racially representative is your college? One clear answer (probably not very) sits right there in the title of one of them: “Segregation Forever?”
A lot of that data is particularly striking for what it reveals about the deepening disparities for Black Americans. It can be summed up like this: Black Americans are underrepresented at our best colleges and overrepresented at some of our worst.
Amy Morona, who reports for our partner Crain’s Cleveland Business, dug into these stubborn gaps in three Midwestern cities — Detroit, Chicago, and Cleveland.
At the most-selective universities, the percentage of Black students is nowhere close to reflecting the percentage of Black residents in the cities that house them.
  • In Cleveland, nearly half of residents are Black but only 6 percent of students at Case Western Reserve University are.
  • Roughly a third of Chicago’s residents are Black, but not quite 5 percent of the University of Chicago’s students are.
The records of some public universities — whose missions are more directly focused on serving the regions around them — aren’t much better.
  • Nearly 80 percent of Detroit’s residents are Black but just 15 percent of Wayne State’s students are.
  • Near Cleveland, 8 percent of Kent State’s students are Black and 15 percent of Cleveland State’s are. 
At the same time, Black students are over-represented at for-profit colleges, where rates of debt tend to run high and graduation rates tend to skew low.
  • Black students are overrepresented at for-profit colleges by more than 12 percentage points in Ohio and by more than 15 percentage points in Michigan, according to one recent estimate.
  • A Bryant and Stratton outpost in Cleveland, a barber college 30 minutes outside of Chicago, and a beauty school in Detroit each reported Black student enrollments of at least 80 percent, Amy reports. 
Beyond the question of where these cities’ Black residents go is whether they go or if they finish. In each of the counties that house Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit, the rates of white people with bachelor’s degrees are more than double the number of Black people with those same credentials.
“These stark enrollment and attainment gaps have far-reaching impacts,” Amy writes. “Earning a bachelor’s degree, of course, affects one’s personal earning potential, but research also shows having higher levels of education creates healthier and more engaged citizens. … It’s also vital for the economic health of a region.”
Amy says she keeps thinking about the ramifications, too, for the lived experiences of people like Claire, the University of Chicago student who appears in her lead. Without many Black professors, Claire said that she and her Black peers look elsewhere to form relationships on campus, often with Black custodians or cafeteria workers. “That’s where we find comfort,” she told Amy.
The reporting for this story, Amy says, sets the foundation for other stories she plans to do — including an examination of for-profit colleges’ relationships with Cleveland neighborhoods and an exploration of what colleges in these cities are doing to recruit and retain more Black students. If you have ideas for Amy, reach out to her here.
+ Read The Fresno Bee on a similar dynamic in California: Black Californians are being steered toward for-profit colleges at double the rate of their white counterparts, according to the Campaign for College Opportunity.
Less-Talked-About, But Still Onerous
“It’s what the system requires.” That’s the refrain of Eric Hoover’s latest deep look in The Chronicle of Higher Education into a part of the college world that often goes unexamined. He’s talking this time about the CSS Profile — a financial-aid form required by a couple hundred of the wealthiest schools in the country.
We talk a lot about the importance of simplifying the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). That’s the form that every college uses and so affects far more students. (Congress approved changes to that form in December.) But as Eric writes, “if the Fafsa is a 100 yards of difficulty, the CSS Profile is a mile.”
It asks for many more financial details (pensions and home equity, for example) to get a fuller picture of a family’s finances. And sometimes the most challenging thing: it requires information from noncustodial parents. 
As he sums up so well:
This isn’t just a story about a bureaucratic bother, though. This is a story about wrung-out teenagers, broken families, and the relentless grip of poverty — a story about how the higher-education complex often serves affluent students from two-parent homes better than it serves everyone else.
He explores the tension between due diligence and overkill — “more information helps colleges, but asking for too much can hinder families.” When you get to the end, you’ll be pretty sure the CSS Profile tilts toward overkill.
Elsewhere on Open Campus
From Amy in Cleveland: Colleges in Northeast Ohio are experimenting with when and how long they offer sessions of courses. The new flexibility could help students post-pandemic, too.
Jewél Jackson, our new reporter in El Paso, introduced herself to readers and looked at key issues facing El Paso, including how a college degree amounts to a ticket out of town.
In Colorado, Jason Gonzales reported on what’s ahead for state funding for higher ed.
+ If you live in Colorado or went to college in Colorado, Jason wants to hear your stories about student debt. Fill out a short form here. (Or share with the Coloradans in your life.)
Spotlight
Texas’ oldest Black university was built on a former plantation. Its students still fight a legacy of voter suppression.
Jayla Allen was her family’s third generation to attend Prairie View A&M University. She inherited a battle for voting rights in Waller County extending before her grandfather’s time at the Southeast Texas college.
 
 
As admissions season descends, wealthier applicants once again have the advantage
 
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