Financial mismanagement and the student debt crisis are dominating headlines. The pandemic brought most classrooms off campus and into student, educator, and family homes. Fernanda Borges Nogueira, Senior Network Program Manager at the Roosevelt Institute, noted, “What this whole crisis has done to higher education is just exposed the cracks that have been there for over a decade of financial mismanagement.”
Yes, there is a financial crisis in higher education, but what if these issues were examined through an equity lens? We’ve witnessed declining enrollments, rising tuition and student loan interest costs outpacing inflation, little to no return on investment for graduates in today’s job market, financial mismanagement, admission scandals, and antiquated curriculum that does not prepare students for practical life. We argue that the stem of the financial crisis is really an equity crisis.
From a student perspective, it is time for an education that meets today’s world. Attempting to create equity in systems that weren’t designed with equity in mind only reinforces hierarchy in governance systems. Thus, positions of power continue to be reserved for wealthy, educated, white individuals who historically have controlled our country’s landscapes (pun intended).
Equity in the form of diversity and inclusion practices has become a well-established trend in academia in an attempt to meet pressure from social justice movements that feature student protests and a call for change. Implementing a DEI program to drive recruitment initiatives neither addresses the systems built without equity in mind nor produces profound changes to campus cultures. It’s a bandage over a gaping wound–a treatment of a system, not the illness.
Students deserve a learning environment where they feel safe, supported, and learn from a population that reflects themselves, their communities, and the diverse global population. Universities will never truly engage and retain the breadth of diversity they wish to attract if those same populations are not included at the table when institutional overhaul is being designed.
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