Updated Aug 24, 2021 - Axios Events

Watch: A conversation on higher education

On Tuesday, August 24, Axios justice and race reporter Russ Contreras, executive editor Sara Kehaulani Goo, and business reporter Erica Pandey discussed the barriers students of color still face to gain access to college.

The one-on-one talks featured Howard University president Wayne A.I. Frederick, M.D., M.B.A., author and assistant professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education Anthony Abraham Jack, Ph.D, and Jenny Rickard, president and CEO of The Common Application.

Dr. Wayne A.I. Frederick discussed how Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) serve an important role in dismantling many of the barriers impacting first-generation Black college students.

  • On remedying the enrollment gap impacting underrepresented students: “It's critical that we do it early, is the first thing I would say. We have a middle school on our campus that's focused on math and science. And my experience has been, if you stop one of those young people in middle school and ask them where they go to school, [they’ll say] ‘I go to Howard University.’ So, it's extremely important to have them get an early exposure. That feeling of being in real college – demystifying it – is important.”
  • On increasing the number of minority majority institutions, a key component in expanding opportunity for underrepresented groups: “Today, we [Howard University] still send more African Americans to medical school than anyone else… That means that we are putting an undue burden on one institution and at the same time, we don't fund that institution as if it's carrying a burden of national importance. So, we have to look at that very closely and fundamentally change what we're trying to do in order to make sure that there's equity. And then in terms of spreading that world, we have to make sure that the other institutions that are supporting this type of work are funded.”

Professor Anthony Abraham Jack, author of The Privileged Poor, expressed his views on how education differs between low-income students and “the top 10 percent”:

  • On the how access to well-funded, top schools opens up opportunities that many lower-income students are not privy to: “You get access to what sociologists call cultural capital, those taken for granted ways of being that are valuable in a particular context. You get an understanding of how to interact with adult figures in mainstream institutions… You get a crash course on what college is to be. And so, the students who are part of programs like A Better Chance, the White Foundation and also students like myself who get scholarships, we get a crash course on what the next four years are going to be about.”
  • On how college campuses can act as a safety net for low-income students: “Lower income students hit that structural wall when [they] still need money to be a full citizen at a university. Small gaps like spring break means something wholly different when you don't have money. When universities shut down their campuses for spring break, assuming that all students depart for fun in the sun, low-income students, both the poor and disadvantaged, face food insecurity… Universities may have opened and created greater access. But is it for lower income students? So often they have forgotten to keep the doors open for those who can't afford to leave.”

CEO Jenny Rickard unpacked how The Common Application is helping eliminate inequitable questions, structures, and more that hinder the college application process for students of color.

  • On the barriers underrepresented students face when applying to college: “Although we've evolved as an application from a technology perspective, from the photocopier to the cloud, from a process perspective, the admissions process has not evolved in that time. And some of the questions that we're asking today that for an audience in 1975 was predominantly white, predominantly male and predominantly upper middle income, we're now much more diverse… We found that students could encounter questions that would then stop them from submitting an application at all.”
  • On how checking one box on a college application makes the difference between continuing on to university and not: “The school discipline question is very critical. We know that having a disciplinary record means they're less likely to graduate from high school, less likely to go to college and more likely to enter the criminal justice system. We looked at our own data and saw that students who just checked the box, yes, that they'd had a disciplinary issue in high school were less likely to complete the application. So, we made that decision this year to eliminate that question from the comment portion of the application.”
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