People often enroll in postsecondary institutions to earn skills, find better economic opportunities, or contribute to their communities. However, many students—including students from low-income backgrounds, students of color, students with learning or developmental differences, and older students—disproportionately face barriers that make it harder for them to complete college. Many of these barriers, including limited financial support or lack of access to quality college preparation in K-12 education, are caused by deep structural and systemic inequities. Additionally, the institutions that disproportionately enroll students facing such barriers, such as community colleges or minority-serving institutions, are often underfunded, compounding the inequities students face. These challenges create an environment not conducive to successful college completion, and many students leave college, often in debt, without a credential to show for it.
All students have value—to themselves, their families, and their communities. Further, federal and state investment in postsecondary attainment pays dividends in economic and noneconomic benefits. To create a system where all students can succeed regardless of their incomes, races or ethnicities, or backgrounds, policymakers must explicitly acknowledge how systemic and institutional barriers create disparities in students’ educational experiences. And then they must make equity a priority in policymaking.
The College Completion Strategy Guide elevates research with data disaggregated (offered separately) by race and ethnicity when possible, and directly discusses the implications of research findings and policy recommendations for equitable policy. Further, the College Completion Strategy Guide includes policy briefs that highlight the needs of some student populations that have been historically underserved by postsecondary education and promising strategies to serve them well.
Still, flawed, inequitable, and biased data and research, particularly research biased with respect to race and ethnicity, can lead to findings that replicate or even worsen disparities in achievement. More research is still needed that analyzes the systemic and institutional inequities that hurt students; disaggregates research results by characteristics like race and ethnicity, income, and age; and most importantly, emphasizes the perspectives and lived expertise of students.
For more information and resources on advancing equity in postsecondary education, see also:
- Aiming for Equity | The Education Trust (2019)
- “Opening the Promise:” The Five Principles of Equitable Policymaking | The Institute for Higher Education Policy (2021)
- Racial Equity Resources | State Higher Education Executive Officers Association