A press announcement from the American Council on Education (ACE) trumpets the release of The Education Gap: Understanding African American and Hispanic Attainment Disparities in Higher Education, yet another entry in the endless stream of apologias explaining away the overall poor performance of the eponymous minority groups. Before plunging into the slough of despond The Education Gap details, a word or two about ACE itself.
ACE is the largest advocate for US higher education. Were it not a non-profit (with revenues upwards of $60 million per year), one might even be tempted to call ACE a lobby for higher ed. But I want to be clear: ACE does a lot of good work from its offices high atop Dupont Circle; in particular, it provides the federal government, and anyone else who cares to ask, with reliably accurate statistics and other useful facts about the rich variety of post-secondary educational opportunities available in this country.
Every year ACE holds its annual meeting, in Washington or in some fabulous city. Twice I heard President Clinton address the assembled multitude, and once Newt Gingrich. It’s a pretty big deal. And the swag! I never had to buy office supplies, because I could fill my tote bag (included in the registration for the meeting) with all manner of pencils, pencils, highlighters, calendars, date books, notepads, post-its, rulers, stress balls. Don’t get me started on the tee-shirts and candy. The best freebie I ever bagged, though, was a book of poetry autographed by its author, Robert Pinsky.
Although I attended ACE annual meetings faithfully for fifteen years or so, I never fit in. I actually attended the discussion sessions and did not use my time to “network.” I couldn’t bring myself to chat up the porcine, manicured executives who’d crowd around the hors d’oeurve at the multitudinous receptions and breaks (I was too busy filling my tote with free cans of diet soda for in-room consumption). Anyone dropping in unannounced to the meeting would think she’d stepped into a den of one percenters. Make no mistake: higher ed is big business, and it’s got the fat cats to prove it. No wonder I didn’t belong.
Nor did I fit in with the various sub-groups that populate ACE. Which brings us, in a way, back to The Education Gap. It is the first in a series of monographs put out by ACE’s “Inclusive Excellence Group.” The IEG “focuses on programs, resources and research to foster greater diversity and inclusion in higher education, particularly within the senior leadership.” I wonder why nobody ever thought of this before. It’s about time a group was formed “to foster greater diversity and inclusion in higher education”!
IEG debuts its excellence in the press release describing the contents of The Education Gap. The report:
examines the degree or certificate attainment of college freshmen from different racial and ethnic groups who have met nine conditions for academic success. The nine conditions were chosen because, unlike inherent traits such as being the first in the family to attend college or having a particular socioeconomic status, they can be influenced by deliberate efforts.
“The reality is that many African American and Hispanic students must endure challenges and obstacles even before college that can be detrimental to their chances of matriculating and graduating,” said Kim Bobby, director of ACE’s Inclusive Excellence Group. “As we strive to reach higher attainment rates, these inequities present a great challenge to the higher education community.
The brief finds that African American and Hispanic students were less likely to take rigorous courses or earn college credit in high school, educational opportunities that enhance postsecondary academic success. They also were more likely to defer entry into college, need remediation, attend part-time, or complete fewer than 20 credits in the first year. Any one of these conditions can have a negative impact leading to lower levels of attainment, and many African American and Hispanic students face more than one of these obstacles.
Admittedly, I am being a little unfair in what I am about to do: criticize The Education Gap based on a press release. The reality is, however, that I already know what’s in the report. Nothing new, and everything it says already abundantly well-documented.
Here is a summary article from Education Week that will give readers links to nearly twenty studies conducted in the past decade on this very subject. Here’s 2012 report from the Rand Corporation. Here is a 2006 study, also the first in a series, from ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development). These dreary reports all come to the same conclusions. If you want to know what those conclusions are, reread the last paragraph of the press release.
It’s easier to do a study, or point a finger of blame at “institutional racism,” than it is to fix a problem that is by now so sharply defined it hurts the eyes to look at it. The fix could start by acknowledging that the “African American and Hispanic students…less likely to take rigorous courses” are not “endur[ing] challenges and obstacles.” They’re deliberately choosing to avoid the challenge of a difficult class. If this is the educational path such students follow K-12, why are we surprised that they are “more likely to defer entry into college, need remediation, attend part-time, or complete fewer than 20 credits in the first year.” And that poor performance in college might lead to…not finishing college. If there is an appropriate response to this drivel other than “duh!” I’d like to hear it.
If African American and Hispanic students come from cultures that do not place a premium on education–and avoiding difficult courses suggests they do–then change the culture. Rather than moaning about kids who don’t take advantage of educational opportunities that could improve their futures, try doing a study on how to get more programs like Pathways to College into schools where students are at high risk.
Pathways’ mission is:
to expand the pipeline to college in selected under-served communities by 1) creating a nationwide, networked community of high-achieving primarily minority children, 2) assisting these students, with their families, to become knowledgeable, attractive college applicants, matriculants, and successful graduates, 3) partnering with colleges, schools and communities for the ongoing and consistent encouragement and support of these aspiring and able children, and 4) by building on the examples our Scholars and teachers set, helping to foster and support a school-wide cultural change that emphasizes academic and career achievement.
That about covers it, wouldn’t you say? Don’t you think the millions of dollars ACE doled out in grants to “support diversity” on college campuses might’ve been better spent supporting more programs like Pathways? By the way, the only grants awarded by ACE in 2011 were for “supporting diversity.” It’s unsettling to learn that the largest lobbying group for higher ed believes the only problem its clients have worthy of grant support is weak-kneed “diversity.” It’s also depressing to realize that, according to ACE’s own research (see: The Education Gap), those millions are but good money thrown after bad.