spending gaps

Higher-ed spending gaps do a disservice to minority students

Inequalities in college spending continue to harm students of color, a new analysis reveals

Inequities that negatively impact students of color in the K-12 education system continue into postsecondary education and are detrimental to student success, according to a new analysis.

When students of color graduate from underfunded and understaffed high schools, gaps in support and spending follow they into postecondary education.

In fact, according to a Center for American Progress (CAP) analysis of IPEDS spending an enrollment data, public college spend roughly $5 billion less educating students of color in one year than they do educating white students.

“For years, researchers have highlighted the vast inequities that persist in the country’s K-12 education system with students of color disproportionately enrolled in public schools that are underfunded, understaffed, and thus more likely to underperform when compared with schools attended by their white peers,” author Sara Garcia writes. “What has received less attention is the fact that these inequitable patterns do not end when a student graduates from high school but persist through postsecondary education.”

Overall, the research yields four major findings:
• Students of color disproportionately go to schools that spend less on them
• Because of this disproportionate enrollment, public colleges in 75 percent of states spent more, on average, to educate a white student than either a black or Latino student in the 2015-16 academic year
• Public colleges in two states stood out for having small spending gaps by race but especially low overall spending on students of color
• If public colleges spend the same on a student of color as they do on a white student, billions of dollars more would be spent to educate students of color each year

Two things have contributed to these troubling spending gaps, the analysis reveals.

1. Policy choices force states to fund public institutions in a way that directs more money to elite research institutions and less to community colleges and four-year schools. This leads to limited resources at the latter institutions.

2. Inequities in access to higher education result in more students of color attending the community colleges and four-year schools receiving fewer resources. Students of color are more likely to attend underresourced institutions with lower government funding per student, thus continuing the inequitable K-12 spending cycle.

These spending dilemmas highlight concerning state policy trends:
• Some states have high per-student spending but also have considerable enrollment gaps by race. “California public colleges have some of the highest spending levels in the country; the state appropriated more than $33 billion for higher education for the 2018-19 school year, including $150 million for the California Community Colleges’ Guided Pathways program to improve student success,” according to the report. “But because black and Latino students are overrepresented in the state’s two-year colleges—which are typically less expensive to attend and spend less per student—California as a result has substantial spending gaps related to race.”
• On the other hand, public colleges in other states might not have considerable spending gaps by race, but the grand total per-student amount spend on students of color is markedly lower than the national average. “Louisiana, for example, does not have a major gap in spending across different racial or ethnic groups. However, while the average spending per student of color in the United States is around $12,900 a year, Louisiana spends just $9,100 annually—a level that is 34 percent below national figures,” according to the analysis.

Whatever the spending gap, the impact is clear, Garcia writes. Research shows that per-student spending impacts students’ success—a 10 percent per-student increase can result in more degrees, while a decrease in spending can have negative impacts on degree attainment.

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Laura Ascione

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