Penn GSE AHEAD

Improving College Access & Attainment for Diverse Populations: The Role of Higher Education Institutions

Monday, September 21, 2015

On September 18, 2015, I delivered the luncheon keynote address at the 2015 Kansas-Missouri Summit on Access, Persistence and Completion in Higher Education. Drawing from a range of relevant data and prior research, I stressed the importance of closing the gaps in college-related outcomes that persist across demographic groups. Ensuring that all students have the opportunity to enter and succeed in higher education must be a priority, if the Greater Kansas City region – and the nation as a whole – is to achieve the benefits of diversity in higher education, ensure that all individuals have access to the many benefits of higher education, and have the level of educational attainment that is required for workforce readiness. I argued that, to close gaps in higher education opportunity, we need a comprehensive approach that fully addresses the most important barriers to college access and attainment especially for students from diverse groups, and that recognizes the unique but interrelated roles of the multiple stakeholders in the higher education attainment process.

Emphasizing that the onus for improving higher education attainment cannot be placed on students and families alone, I called for “public policies and institutional practices that address the systemic and structural barriers that contribute to persisting gaps in attainment across groups.” I encouraged attendees to consider how colleges and universities can and should adapt their approaches to recognize the ways in which state higher education policies are (and are not) addressing the systemic barriers to higher education opportunity and to reflect the needs and characteristics of the local and regional context.

In order to increase higher education attainment and close gaps in attainment across groups, state policymakers and institutional leaders must also make equity a priority. The failure to level the playing field for higher education has a disproportionate negative impact on those who are now least well served by our higher education institutions.