Making College More Accessible to Underrepresented Groups

Making College More Accessible to Underrepresented Groups
portrait of Dean Golembeski
By Dean Golembeski

Published on July 16, 2021

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Colleges and universities seeking to recruit and enroll more veterans, people of color, individuals with disabilities, and other historically underrepresented and underserved groups would receive financial help from the federal government under a new bill introduced in the U.S. Senate.

U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) are cosponsoring the College Equity Act. This bill would provide grants to colleges and universities to conduct equity audits and then implement changes based on their findings.

The College Equity Act would provide grants to colleges and universities to conduct equity audits and then implement changes based on their findings.

"There are schools where veterans, people of color, and people with disabilities are able to thrive, and others where they struggle. The difference often comes down to schools knowing the challenges that exist for students and doing something to help," Schatz said in a news release.

"This bill provides federal funding so that the doors of every college and university are open to qualified students from all walks of life — and that these schools can offer the resources students need to graduate on time and make a good living for themselves."

The bill was first introduced in 2019 and then reintroduced on July 7, 2021. When first brought up by Schatz in 2019 the bill was read twice in the Senate and referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. However, no further action was taken at that time.

Funding to Conduct Audits and Implement Changes

Under the proposed legislation, a college or university would apply for a grant from the U.S. Department of Education to conduct an equity audit. If approved, a school would then receive at least $100,000 to complete its audit within two years.

The audit would require schools to examine admission policies, outreach efforts, financial aid policies, student support services, the diversity of administrators, and many other variables.

After completing the audit, the school would become eligible for a grant to develop and execute improvement plans to address the audit's findings. Grant recipients would share their findings so that best practices could be implemented by other institutions.

Equity Audits Can and Do Work

Equity audits have proven to be successful tools for implementing changes to correct educational disparities. Rutgers University completed an equity audit in 2020 to help shape its diversity strategic planning process. Skyline College completed a two-year equity audit in 2012 that examined its communications, curriculum, and hiring to improve student outcomes.

Equity audits have proven successful in the past.

"If we want to repair deep inequities in our society and make college a more reliable path to economic security, we must provide colleges the opportunity to examine their own practices and recognize where they might unintentionally be harming students of color, student parents, and other groups that too often are not well served by higher education," said Marcella Bombardieri, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

In his news release, Schatz also noted that the bill has the support of the Institute for Higher Education Policy, New America, UnidosUS, Center for Law and Social Policy, and Third Way.

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