Equity in higher education was already an issue before the COVID-19 pandemic, but conditions created by the global health crisis thrust the topic even further into the spotlight. The racial wealth gap, unequal access to healthcare, and disproportionate unemployment rates among Black and Latino workers combined to create what some call “a crisis for equity in higher education.”

“I’m really worried that [underserved] students won’t come back at all, or they might come back much later,” Lorelle Espinosa, vice president for research at the American Council on Education, told Inside Higher Ed. “Even if they stay, the educational experience may be really disruptive and misaligned to their learning needs.”

More than ever, professionals in higher education are realizing that race and ethnicity are “one of the most salient predictors of higher education access and success in this country,” as the American Council on Education (ACE) puts it. The data is clear: Opportunities for success in higher education are not equal across racial and ethnic groups.
Equity, then, is the corrective. In higher education, equity is a guiding principle that seeks not only equal opportunities but also fair resources and outcomes. Higher education administrators and educators play a critical role in orienting their institutions toward equity by establishing it as an organization-wide imperative and developing methods to achieve it.

Barry University’s Master of Science in Higher Education Administration online program prepares higher education leaders to prioritize equity for all students. The degree program includes relevant coursework such as Contemporary Issues in Higher Education and Diversity and College Student Development that prepare graduates to address the most salient topics in educational equity.

Racial Gaps in Colleges Students Attend

The Indicators of Higher Education Equity in the United States: 2021 Historical Trend Report was recently released by The Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education of the Council for Opportunity in Education (COE) and the University of Pennsylvania Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy (PennAHEAD). Results found disparities in the types of colleges and universities that students of different racial groups attend. For example, white high school graduates were more than three times as likely to enroll in four-year institutions ranked as “Most or Highly Selective” compared to Black graduates, at a rate of 17% to 5%, respectively. Therefore, making elite institutions accessible to and welcoming of non-white students must be an administrative priority.

The Student Debt Burden

The same COE and PennAHEAD report found Black students bear a much greater student debt burden than white students on average. The gap between the two groups rose to more than $28,000 in 2019 dollars, with Black students borrowing an average of $62,824 and white students borrowing an average of $34,717. This has long-term effects: Ten years after earning bachelor’s degrees, almost three times as many Black graduates as white graduates reported they had difficulty “meeting essential living expenses.” Educational leaders will need to think critically to address how college degrees are not equally economically beneficial to students of different races.

Preparing All Students for Careers

A May 2020 poll by the Education Trust and the Global Strategy Group found that Black and Latino students are more worried than their white counterparts about obtaining the skills and training they need from higher education, especially in the wake of the pandemic: “80% of students and 85% of students of color say they are very concerned about not being able to get the skills or work experience they need to get a job after they graduate.” Administrators whose institutions prioritize the educational needs of students of color will better prepare those students for long-term career success.

Serving Low-Income Students

In addition to race, socioeconomic status often disadvantages certain groups of students. For example, students who enrolled in college between 2011 and 2012 who were both low-income and the first generation in their families to attend college had a 21% chance of completing a bachelor’s degree in six years compared to a 66% chance among students who were not low-income or first-generation college students.

Decolonizing the Curriculum

Educational equity isn’t only about who attends which schools; it’s about the curriculum they have access to there. In recent years, reformers have called on higher education to “decolonize the curriculum” by critiquing established narratives, examining hegemonic ideas and schools of thought, and centering nontraditional voices and views.

The road to equity in education is long and far from complete. Still, an advanced degree in educational administration can help prepare you to address the disparities in the field and make an impact.

Learn more about Barry University’s online Master of Science in Higher Education Administration program.


American Council on Education: About

Global Strategy Group: Higher Ed Survey Highlights the Academic, Financial, and Emotional Toll of Coronavirus on Students

Inside Higher Ed:
Higher Education and Work Amid Crisis
How to Stand Up for Equity in Higher Education

The Pell Institute: The Indicators of Higher Education Equity in the United States: 2021 Historical Trend Report