Underrepresented Minority Access in Higher Education

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The Era of Hegemony in higher education is known as the golden age (Cohen, 187). Soldiers were returning home from World War II. The Service Readjustment Act of 1944 later named the G.I. Bill was initiated to issue soldiers and veterans pay to enroll them in college to increase the attendance rate (Cohen, 194). Colleges were affordable. The 1960’s gave students a voice. Curriculum was based on student engagement. Finances for higher education increased and higher education was available for “some”. Minority groups were underrepresented during this period. Access for “all” became the focus for this era.

Access is the main focus for higher education. Social, cultural, and political views causes some individuals in the U. S. to be underserved in higher education. Blacks, Hispanics, women, and other minorities are faced with barriers and challenges as it related to higher education. Although enrollment rates, graduation rates, and diverse campuses have flourished, minorities are still unequally represented in educational access and opportunity. One particular minority group, African Americans are underrepresented in higher education. The steps taken to increase educational access in the Hegemony Era were crucial turning points for African-Americans in educational access and success. There are still gaps that separate higher education in African-Americans from other minority and majority groups, but through financial aid, college readiness, support and student understanding, African-American students can benefit from higher education.

History of Access

Black students did not have a foundation for education before the Civil War. Blacks were prohibited any education in several parts of the nation. Following the Civil War, the Second Morrill Act of 1890 required that states with racially segregated education institutions to provide land-grants for establishing education for Black students. The new public institutions for Blacks provided courses in agriculture, mechanics, and industrial subjects.

Many separated but equal institutions were established under federal law. However, the breakthrough case of Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954), said that educational institutions were unequal, and the case ruled that this was in violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, setting the roadmap for integration. However, the act did not specify exactly when to begin the integration process, that decision would be determined by individual states (Cohen, 195-196).

This was no means a victory for Blacks, for many whites would not comply to the ruling. Southern states governors such as Little Rock, Arkansas ordered the National Guard to block students from entering; Virginia’s governor shut down integrated schools; the Universities of

Mississippi and Alabama governors disobeyed orders (Cohen, 196). Ten years after, the Civil Rights of 1964 was introduced authorizing federal power to enforce the rights of all people to vote, to use public facilities, to gain employment, and to support schools and colleges by providing in-service training designed to aid staff with problems ensued by desegregation in schools (Cohen, 197). The Higher Education Act of 1965 made it possible for grants to be issued to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) for faculty and curriculum improvement, services for students, exchange programs, and improvements for administration. Affirmative Action, introduced by U.S. President John F. Kennedy, was then implemented by President Lyndon B. Johnson, in 1965, played a major role in African-American participation and enrollment in higher education (Harper, 397). If the cost of attending college is affordable, if the college experience is a feeling of encouragement, acceptability and engagement, and if the faculty is supportive to the needs of the students, then higher education could drive African-American students to degree-granting success.

Inequity

Social inequity is a unique challenge to our education system as access to educational opportunity is the key tool for improving socially. For several years, experts have used new programs and policies, but these intervention methods have not produced, long-term improvements for all populations. To offer the support of the educational needs of underrepresented students, policy makers and educators should face the fact that there is not a just one intervention strategy that would sustain meaningful and long-lasting improvements. It will take several techniques and methods that should be started early such as interventions that educate students with about college academics and financing; offer students transitional support that focuses on opportunities to earn college credit and setting pathways for transferring from two year colleges to four-year colleges; expose students to academic and social integration programs, learning communities, diversity initiatives, and campus culture that offers the best teaching practices for students.

Social inequality is one of the most difficult obstacles that we face here in America, especially when opportunities and rewards are given based on diverse social positions or statuses within a group or society. Our educational system is the foundation of these obstacles which is perceived as the problem and the solution. The education system continues these disadvantages through dissimilar access to opportunities and provides the major tool for social mobility. For several years, policymakers and researchers have tested new policies, programs, and interventions to encourage the success of disadvantaged students. While there has been progress, some important challenges still exist.  For instance, low-income student enrollment in colleges has increased, however, these students are still underrepresented compared to their peers of higher socioeconomic status. Policies, such as the Pell Grant program, used to make college more affordable, have been important for providing opportunities for postsecondary education, but has proven to be a failure by not meeting demand or keeping up with the expenses of college. Furthermore, at some certain institutions, racial and ethnic minority students have increased their roles in attendance, but still are underrepresented.

Despite these persistent inequalities, literature  to identifies several keys for improving access and success in higher education for underrepresented students who are considered minorities or students of color,  low-income families and communities students, English language learners students, disabled students, immigrants, and those students who are first generation students in their families enrolled in college.

Access to higher education is available for all minorities: military (active or veteran), Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, disabled students, and all women. Legislature, finance, social upheaval, and student attitudes made higher education accessible to those who took advantage of the choice. Bridging the gap between African American students and other groups is the higher education issue of today.

The Gap

There is a gap between ethnic minority and majority students when it comes to attaining higher education degrees (Myers, 2003). Racial or ethnic minority students are apt to leaving post-secondary institutions than majority students. This is a significant, on-going problem for an increasing number of minority students in grades K–12 and these students are seemingly not entering or graduating from college (Keller, 2001).

This gap between underserved minority students and other groups is particularly critical because it has an affect long-term social mobility. The attainment of a baccalaureate degree or any postsecondary degree usually ends in a greater pay for minority populations (Malveaux, 2003).

These statistics stresses the important need of understanding retention problems, as it related to underserved students. Knowledge of understanding student retention is not limited to campus leaders, educators, and researchers, but also to society. Several years ago, Stewart (1988) proposed that the urgent concern in higher education dealt with the participation and retention of minority students in higher education. This problem still exists today.

The purpose of this paper is to identify and describe a problem for an action research proposal to discuss a study of minority college student access and retention issues, review important literature that is relevant to understanding retention problems for underrepresented minority students, and to discussion implications for future research.

References

  • Cohen, A. M., & Kisker, C. B. (2009). The shaping of American higher education: Emergence and growth of the contemporary system (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  • Harper, S.R., Patton, L.D. and Wooden O.S. (2009). Access and equity for African-American Students in higher education: A critical race historical analysis of policy efforts. Journal of Higher Education,80(4) 389-414
  • Hutcheson, P., Gasman, M., & Sanders-McMurtry, K. (2011). Race and equality in the academy: Rethinking higher education actors and the struggle for equality in the post-World War II period. Journal of Higher Education, 82(2), 121-153.
  • Keller, G. (2001) “The New Demographics of Higher Education.” The Review of Higher Education, 24(3), 219–235.
  • Malveaux, J. (2003). What’s at Stake: The Social and Economic Benefits of Higher Education? Challenging Times, Clear Choices: An Action Agenda for College Access and Success. National Dialogue on Student Financial Aid, Research Report no. 2. Washington, D.C.: Pathways to College Network.
  • Myers, R. D. College Success Programs: Executive Summary. Washington, D.C.: Pathways to College Network, 2003.

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