Last month, Gallup and Lumina Foundation released the “State of Higher Education: Black Learners” report. It revealed concrete data around an issue I’ve already known to be true: we need to take better care of our Black learners, and that needs to happen now. If we want a thriving economy in which all can participate, we must ensure that Black students enroll and complete post-secondary education.
As president/CEO of Compton College, I spend much of my time fighting for Black student success. Part of that work includes serving on committees such as the National Panel on Black Student Enrollment and the University of Southern California Racial Equity in Guided Pathways Commission Taskforce. I also advocate for Compton College students, making sure they have a clear pathway to achieve their goals. To make this happen, I show up each day as my authentic self: an unapologetic leader addressing student success while dismantling racist barriers and long-standing institutional racism. I’ve dedicated my entire career to education, and I am fully committed to the success of all students, including Black learners. But according to new findings from Gallup and Lumina Foundation, more of us must similarly commit to the success of Black students.
Unfortunately, Black learners often experience obstacles that contribute to declines in postsecondary enrollment and completion. Racial discrimination, competing demands at home and work, and the high cost of higher education make many Black learners unable to see the value in attending college. This has contributed to a massive drop in Black students enrolling in, and succeeding in, postsecondary programs.
- Over 1 in 5 enrolled Black students among all postsecondary institutions feel discriminated against “frequently” or “occasionally” in their program (21%), vs. 15% of all other students.
- About one third (32%) of Black students in short-term credential programs – including certificates and professional certifications – feel discriminated against at least occasionally.
- One-third of Black students at for-profit private schools (33%) say they experience discrimination frequently or occasionally, vs. 23% of those in private, not-for-profit institutions and 17% at public universities.
At Compton College, 63% of our students are Latinx and 22% are African American. We make concerted efforts to address their specific needs and the general needs of all students. We believe that every student is a success story. With this framing at the forefront, as a leader, I absolutely must keep in mind who my students are. All of who they are. They are ethnically diverse, ably-diverse, gender-, orientation- and age-diverse. As people, they are multifaceted, and it is up to us as educational leaders to not brush differences under the rug, but to honor and include these diversities so that they do not feel discriminated against due to ignorance from fellow students, peers, and educators.
These diversities within our students often bring with them competing factors that can become barriers to completing their studies. Here, the report says:
Black students are about twice as likely as other bachelor’s degree students to have additional responsibilities as caregivers or full-time workers – 35% vs. 18%, respectively.
- Overall, 23% of Black students have caregiver responsibilities, vs. 11% of other students
- 15% of Black students are caregivers for adult family members or friends, vs. 8% of other students
- 11% of Black students are parents or guardians of children under 18, vs. 7% of other students
- 20% of Black students are employed full time, vs. 11% of other students
What does this mean for us as educational leaders? It means we must meet our students where they are. Not just because they deserve our support, but because our economy and society simply cannot function if we do otherwise. In higher education, our students don’t need fake leadership; they need authentic, genuine, and, most importantly, unapologetic leaders fighting for and advocating for their success.
As leaders, we can start by asking questions that address inequities. How can we offer flexibility in class schedules? How do we continue to offer remote learning to those who require it? How are we addressing student basic needs? How do we strengthen our online student support services for students? How do we administer better financial aid options? Does the representation of our faculty and staff reflect the demographics of our community? Being willing to ask and answer these questions could mean the difference between a student’s success and failure rate where community colleges are concerned. The effect of this loss goes beyond enrollment. It is larger than funding repercussions. When a student drops out of higher education, our entire community is impacted.
I’ve been at Compton College – and within the Compton Community College District – for nearly 18 years. I have met and worked with countless students. I have also sat with countless CEOs and other community leaders. I know that if we do more to help Black learners succeed, we are helping our entire community succeed. This important work cannot wait.
I hope more and more college presidents, policymakers, and education advocates will become forward-thinking and unapologetically fight for the success of Black learners. If you don’t know where to start, download this report. It’ll help interested parties to understand the importance of decreasing inequities and changing the landscape so that Black learners, and by extension, all communities, thrive.
Keith Curry, Ed.D., is the President/Chief Executive Officer of Compton Community College District, and an unapologetic leader addressing student success. For more information on work currently underway to unapologetic action in support of Black learners, visit https://www.community4blacklearnerexcellence.com/.
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