Improvements are needed in student support, funding, and operations to adequately and correctly address inequities in higher education.

5 key actions to address inequities in higher education

Based on insights from HBCUs, improvements are needed in student support, funding, and operations to adequately address equity gaps

A handful of key actions are critical in addressing the opportunities and challenges in providing quality learning experiences for all students, according to the Online Learning Consortium (OLC), a nonprofit community of education leaders and innovators dedicated to advancing digital teaching and learning. The recommended actions to correct inequities in higher education are based on a year of insights from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

“The pandemic that forced colleges to social distance and move to remote learning exacerbated the struggles many HBCUs have faced in trying to meet the broad needs of their students,” said Angela Gunder, Chief Academic Officer of OLC. “However, these challenges also brought an opportunity for leaders in education, business, government and other organizations to come together and engage in meaningful discourse to strengthen the future for all learners.” 

A recently released report, “Stronger Together,” developed by the OLC in partnership with the National Accrediting Commission for Diversity and Inclusion, Tennessee State University, United States Distance Learning Association, and National Coalition of 100 Black Women, found three primary areas for improvement, including student support, funding, and operations.

“I’m very excited about how this report evolved,” said Dr. Kim Cliett Long, OLC board member and president and CEO of Organizational Concepts/Adult Learners Now. “We were able to capture snapshots before and going into the pandemic, but I think it’s important that this report captures the actual lived experiences of participants as they moved through almost a year.” 

Based on that report and continued leadership over the past year from HBCUs, calls to action to address inequities in higher education include the need for institutions to:

Continue to lead and inspire educators to seek diversity, equity and inclusion. HBCUs enroll disproportionately high numbers of underrepresented students, including low-income, first-generation, and academically underprepared individuals. Amid the environment of COVID-19 and social justice protests, students face new and enhanced challenges around physical and mental health, financial ability to attend, and equitable access to technology.

Collaborate in formulating legislation and funding to sustain the rich heritage, core values, and contributions of HBCUs. More lobbying is needed to drive increased funding. HBCUs make up 3 percent of U.S. public and private higher education institutions, and graduate 17 percent of Black undergraduate students.

Expand and build partnerships with business and organizations to help integrate and implement diversity. Most important is to acknowledge the talent pool of black and brown students that require support and mentorship.

Monitor and understand students’ ability to attend class in the shifting environment, provide support and flexibility, and consider new ways to serve students. This includes online options and more health initiatives embedded into curriculum and culture to better help students to make choices to care for mind, body, and being.

Innovate around the student experience, building off changes necessitated by the pandemic, and propel the institution forward for long-term reach.

HBCUs play an essential role in advancing the nation’s capacity for leadership in quality learning experiences for all students. African Americans and other people of color comprise upwards of 35 percent of U.S. citizens and permanent residents in American colleges and universities. The number is growing and, in a few decades, students of color will make up the majority of students in the nation’s higher education institutions, the Pew Research Center has suggested.

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