College Diversity & Retention

Higher Education Diversity: It is Easy to Attract Students of Color to College Campuses, but not as Easy to Retain Them

By Falyn Page
XXTRA Special & Free
Beat: Higher Education

Currently, college enrollment rates for students of color are at similar levels to white and Asian students. Although this is a great step from where our society was 50 years ago, today students of color still do not have the same access to four-year colleges and do not earn degrees at the same rates as other students, according to the ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report.

Although access is a contributing factor to why students of color are not graduating, it is not the only reason.

Obtaining a college degree opens up great opportunities that are not necessarily given to those without higher education. While most people see the importance of a college education, what is often unclear is how they will afford that education.

If you are one of the lucky ones, you can graduate within the normal four to five-year bracket with some debt. Unfortunately, this is not the reality for most students of color.

A 2015 report by Demos, a public policy organization, showed that black students borrow more than students from any other race for the same degree. Also, black students with loans are more likely than white students with loans to drop out without ever receiving a degree.

The Center for American Progress has research showing that student debt is more burdensome for black borrowers than for white borrowers, according to a Time Money report. The research also shows that earning a bachelor’s degree did not shield minority borrowers nearly as well as it did white borrowers for defaulting on their loans. Defaulting on student loans means that they have missed and/or are behind on monthly payments.

We know that diversity has a positive impact in higher education and on college campuses. It increases competitiveness, provides a meaningful cultural experience and reflects our diverse nation. But, many people of color never get the opportunity to truly experience all that college has to offer because they are working two-three jobs to pay their way through school.

So, are universities selling dreams to minority students to attract them to campus? Some may call it false hope, while others may say it’s just a cost to paid to change the trajectory of a family’s socio-economic status. But, there is a difference between paying reasonable costs for an education and being forever tethered to an unwavering burden of student debt.

Cortez Brown, a black student at the University of Missouri, was recently forced to make a tough decision to take this spring semester off because of his financial situation.

He stated, “I understand the importance of my education. I just simply can’t afford it and that sucks because there is nothing I can do about it.”

This makes me wonder, what can students of color do to afford school? In the short-term, one thing that students can do, besides going down the rabbit hole of loans, is to apply for various scholarships online. With the help of websites like scholarship.com, students have access to over 3.7 million scholarships and grants at their fingertips.

In the long-run, students of color (as citizens who can vote) have a rare and powerful opportunity to help make changes that last. The most critical first step is to register to vote, and work with other students to register others to vote. The goal should be elect leaders who commit, as candidates to ensure access to higher education for all Americans at a cost that is most affordable. Also, beyond voting, under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, students of color have the right to educate and communicate with national leaders about their concerns. This year, Congress is considering the Higher Education Act (HEA). The HEA is the law that governs all federal higher education programs. A bill has been introduced in the US House of Representatives, and the deliberations are underway in the Senate.

At the end of the day, knowledge is power. In addition to pursuing a formal education, educating ourselves and leaders about our rights as citizens is the best way to ensure long-lasting impact on this issue. The two approaches together represent a formidable force. And as blues guitarist and singer, BB King, once said, “The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you.”

When students of color truly comprehend their power as citizens and consumers, and then put into practice what they have learned . . . needed change will occur. As Frederick Douglass has said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has, and it never will.”

So, stand up for your education, students of color. Stand up for our future, women of color.

Don’t you think it’s time?

Editor’s Note: In this article, the terms “of color” and “minority” are used interchangeably. The editor’s preference is “of color,” because people of color represent a “majority” globally and soon will represent a collective majority in the U.S.