Exploring Equity: Race and Ethnicity

  • Posted February 18, 2021
  • By Gianna Cacciatore
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
  • Inequality and Education Gaps
  • Moral, Civic, and Ethical Education
  • Teachers and Teaching

Colorful profiles of students raising hands in class

The history of education in the United States is rife with instances of violence and oppression along lines of race and ethnicity. For educators, leading conversations about race and racism is a challenging, but necessary, part of their work.

“Schools operate within larger contexts: systems of race, racism, and white supremacy; systems of migration and ethnic identity formation; patterns of socialization; the changing realities of capitalism and politics,” explains historian and Harvard lecturer Timothy Patrick McCarthy , co-faculty lead of Race and Ethnicity in Context, a new module offered at the Harvard Graduate School of Education this January as part of a pilot of HGSE’s Equity and Opportunity Foundations course. “How do we understand the role that racial and ethnic identity play with respect to equity and opportunity within an educational context?”

>> Learn more about Equity and Opportunity and HGSE’s other foundational learning experiences.

For educators exploring question in their own homes, schools, and communities, McCarthy and co-faculty lead Ashley Ison, an HGSE doctoral student, offer five ways to get started.

1.    Begin with the self.

Practitioners enter conversations about race and racism from different backgrounds, with different lived experiences, personal and professional perspectives, and funds of knowledge in their grasps. Given diverse contexts and realities, it is important that leaders encourage personal transformation and growth. Educators should consider how race and racism, as well as racial and ethnic identity formation, impact their lives as educational professionals, as parents, and as policymakers – whatever roles they hold in society. “This is personal work, but that personal work is also political work,” says Ison.

2.    Model vulnerability.

Entering into discussions of race and racism can be challenging, even for those with experience in this work. A key part of enabling participants to lean into the challenge is being vulnerable. “You have trust your students,” explains McCarthy. “Part of that is modeling authentic vulnerability and proximity to the work.” This can be done by modeling discussion skills, like sharing the space and engaging directly with the comments of other participants, as well as by opening up personally to participants.  

“Fear can impact how people feel talking about race and ethnicity in an inter-group space,” says Ison. Courage, openness, and trust are key to overcoming that fear and enabling listening, which ultimately allows for critical thinking and change.

3.    Be transparent.

Part of being vulnerable is being fully transparent with your students from day one. “Intentions are important,” explains McCarthy. “The gap between intention and impact is often rooted in a lack of transparency about where you’re coming from or where you are hoping to go.”

4.    Center voices of color.

Voice and story are powerful tools in this work. Leaders must consider whose voices and stories take precedence on the syllabus. “Consider highlighting authors of color, in particular, who are thinking and writing about these issues,” says Ison. Becoming familiar with a variety of perspectives can help practitioners understand the voices and ideas that exist, she explains.

“Voice and storytelling can bear witness to the various kinds of systematic injustices and inequities we are looking at, but they also function as sources of power for imagining and reimagining the world we are trying to build, all while providing a deeper knowledge of the world as it has existed historically,” adds McCarthy.

5.    Prioritize discussion and reflection.

Since this work is as much about critical thinking as it is about content, it is important for educators to make space for discussion and reflection, at the whole-class, small-group, and individual levels. Ison and McCarthy encourage educators to allow students to generate and guide the discussion of predetermined course materials. They also recommend facilitating small group reflections that may spark conversation that can extend into other spaces outside of the classroom.

Selected Resources:

  • Poor, but Privileged
  • NPR: "The Importance of Diversity in Teaching Staff”
  • TED Talk with Clint Smith: "The Danger of Silence"

More Stories from the Series:

  • Exploring Equity: Citizenship and Nationality
  • Exploring Equity: Gender and Sexuality
  • Exploring Equity: Dis/ability
  • Exploring Equity: Class

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This is what the racial education gap in the US looks like right now

United States Education Equality Achievement Scores

Racial achievement gaps in the United States has been slow and unsteady. Image:  Unsplash/Santi Vedrí

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  • Racial achievement gaps in the United States are narrowing, a Stanford University data project shows.
  • But progress has been slow and unsteady – and gaps are still large across much of the country.
  • COVID-19 could widen existing inequalities in education.
  • The World Economic Forum will be exploring the issues around growing income inequality as part of The Jobs Reset Summit .

In the United States today, the average Black and Hispanic students are about three years ahead of where their parents were in maths skills.

They’re roughly two to three years ahead of them in reading, too.

And while white students’ test scores in these subjects have also improved, they’re not rising by as much. This means racial achievement gaps – a key way of monitoring whether all students have access to a good education – in the country are narrowing, research by Stanford University shows.

But while the trend suggests progress is being made in improving racial educational disparities, it doesn’t show the full picture. Progress, the university says, has been slow and uneven.

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Standardized tests

Stanford’s Educational Opportunity Monitoring Project uses average standardized test scores for nine-, 13- and 17-year-olds to measure these achievement gaps.

It’s able to do this because the same tests have been used by the National Assessment of Educational Progress to observe maths and reading skills since the 1970s.

Achievement Gap researchers educational equality United States

In the following decades, as the above chart shows, achievement gaps have significantly declined in all age groups and in both maths and reading. But it’s been something of a roller-coaster.

Substantial progress stalled at the end of the 1980s and throughout the 1990s and in some cases the gaps grew larger. Since then, they’ve been declining steadily and are now significantly smaller than they were in the 1970s.

But these gaps are still “very large”. In fact, the difference in standardized test scores between white and Black students currently amounts to roughly two years of education. And the gap between white and Hispanic students is almost as big.

Schools not to blame

This disparity exists across the US. Racial achievement gaps have narrowed in most states – although they’ve widened in a small number. In almost all of the country’s 100 largest school districts , though, there’s a big achievement gap between white and Black students.

White Black Student Achievement Scores Education Equality

So why is this? Stanford says its data doesn’t support the common argument that schools themselves are to blame for low average test scores, which is often made because white students tend to live in wealthier communities where schools are presumed to be better.

In fact, it says, the scores actually represent gaps in educational opportunity, which can be traced back to a child’s early experiences. These experiences are formed at home, in childcare and preschool, and in communities – and they provide opportunities to develop socioemotional and academic capacities.

Higher-income families are more likely to be able to provide these opportunities to their children, so a family’s socioeconomic resources are strongly related to educational outcomes , Stanford says. It notes that in the US, Black and Hispanic children’s parents typically have lower incomes and levels of educational attainment than those of white children.

Other factors, such as patterns of residential and school segregation and a state’s educational and social policies, could also have a role in the size of achievement gaps.

And discipline could play its part, too, according to another Stanford study. It linked the achievement gap between Black and white students to the fact that the former are punished more harshly for similar misbehaviour, for example being more likely to be suspended from school than the latter.

Long-term effects

Stanford says using data to map race and poverty could provide the insights needed to help improve educational opportunity for all children.

And this kind of insight is needed now more than ever. The school shutdowns forced by COVID-19 could have exacerbated existing achievement gaps , according to research from McKinsey. The consultancy says the resulting learning losses – predicted to be greater for low-income Black and Hispanic students – could have long-term effects on the economic well-being of the affected children.

Black and Hispanic families are less likely to have high-speed internet at home, making distance learning difficult. And students living in low-income neighbourhoods are less likely to have had decent home schooling, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Earlier in the pandemic, it said coronavirus would "explode" achievement gaps , suggesting it could expand them by the equivalent of another half a year of schooling.

The World Economic Forum’s Jobs Reset Summit brings together leaders from business, government, civil society, media and the broader public to shape a new agenda for growth, jobs, skills and equity.

The two-day virtual event, being held on 1-2 June 2021, will address the most critical areas of debate, articulate pathways for action, and mobilize the most influential leaders and organizations to work together to accelerate progress.

The Summit will develop new frameworks, shape innovative solutions and accelerate action on four thematic pillars: Economic Growth, Revival and Transformation; Work, Wages and Job Creation; Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning; and Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice.

The World Economic Forum will be exploring the issues around growing income inequality, and what to do about it, as part of The Jobs Reset Summit .

The summit will look at ways to shape more inclusive, fair and sustainable organizations, economies and societies as we emerge from the current crisis.

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Researching Race and Ethnic Inequalities in Education. Key Findings and Future Directions

  • First Online: 06 July 2019
  • pp 1237–1270

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research questions about race and education

  • Peter A. J. Stevens 3 &
  • A. Gary Dworkin 4  

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As pointed out in the introduction, the sheer scope of the research discussed in this Handbook does not allow us to integrate critically all the findings that emerged out of these studies into a single concluding chapter that advises on future directions for research in each of the key research traditions and national and regional contexts. Instead in this concluding chapter we aim to realize three goals. First, we summarize and discuss some of the key characteristics of each national/regional review presented in an overview grid, which includes information on the: (1) research traditions; (2) research goals; (3) dominant research designs; (4) focus on groups identified as racially or ethnically distinct; (5) relationship between policy-makers and the research community; (6) key policy characteristics and developments over time; and (7) main language(s) of publication. This overview grid is used both as a tool to summarize research conducted in this area and as a reference guide that can be used by readers to identify particular areas of research and information and as a result assist in developing more specific, integrative reviews.

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Stevens, P.A.J., Dworkin, A.G. (2019). Researching Race and Ethnic Inequalities in Education. Key Findings and Future Directions. In: Stevens, P.A.J., Dworkin, A.G. (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of Race and Ethnic Inequalities in Education. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-94724-2_29

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Unequal Opportunity: Race and Education

Subscribe to governance weekly, linda darling-hammond ld linda darling-hammond.

March 1, 1998

  • 13 min read

W.E.B. DuBois was right about the problem of the 21st century. The color line divides us still. In recent years, the most visible evidence of this in the public policy arena has been the persistent attack on affirmative action in higher education and employment. From the perspective of many Americans who believe that the vestiges of discrimination have disappeared, affirmative action now provides an unfair advantage to minorities. From the perspective of others who daily experience the consequences of ongoing discrimination, affirmative action is needed to protect opportunities likely to evaporate if an affirmative obligation to act fairly does not exist. And for Americans of all backgrounds, the allocation of opportunity in a society that is becoming ever more dependent on knowledge and education is a source of great anxiety and concern.

At the center of these debates are interpretations of the gaps in educational achievement between white and non-Asian minority students as measured by standardized test scores. The presumption that guides much of the conversation is that equal opportunity now exists; therefore, continued low levels of achievement on the part of minority students must be a function of genes, culture, or a lack of effort and will (see, for example, Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve and Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom’s America in Black and White).

The assumptions that undergird this debate miss an important reality: educational outcomes for minority children are much more a function of their unequal access to key educational resources, including skilled teachers and quality curriculum, than they are a function of race. In fact, the U.S. educational system is one of the most unequal in the industrialized world, and students routinely receive dramatically different learning opportunities based on their social status. In contrast to European and Asian nations that fund schools centrally and equally, the wealthiest 10 percent of U.S. school districts spend nearly 10 times more than the poorest 10 percent, and spending ratios of 3 to 1 are common within states. Despite stark differences in funding, teacher quality, curriculum, and class sizes, the prevailing view is that if students do not achieve, it is their own fault. If we are ever to get beyond the problem of the color line, we must confront and address these inequalities.

The Nature of Educational Inequality

Americans often forget that as late as the 1960s most African-American, Latino, and Native American students were educated in wholly segregated schools funded at rates many times lower than those serving whites and were excluded from many higher education institutions entirely. The end of legal segregation followed by efforts to equalize spending since 1970 has made a substantial difference for student achievement. On every major national test, including the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the gap in minority and white students’ test scores narrowed substantially between 1970 and 1990, especially for elementary school students. On the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), the scores of African-American students climbed 54 points between 1976 and 1994, while those of white students remained stable.

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Even so, educational experiences for minority students have continued to be substantially separate and unequal. Two-thirds of minority students still attend schools that are predominantly minority, most of them located in central cities and funded well below those in neighboring suburban districts. Recent analyses of data prepared for school finance cases in Alabama, New Jersey, New York, Louisiana, and Texas have found that on every tangible measure—from qualified teachers to curriculum offerings—schools serving greater numbers of students of color had significantly fewer resources than schools serving mostly white students. As William L. Taylor and Dianne Piche noted in a 1991 report to Congress: Inequitable systems of school finance inflict disproportionate harm on minority and economically disadvantaged students. On an inter-state basis, such students are concentrated in states, primarily in the South, that have the lowest capacities to finance public education. On an intra-state basis, many of the states with the widest disparities in educational expenditures are large industrial states. In these states, many minorities and economically disadvantaged students are located in property-poor urban districts which fare the worst in educational expenditures (or) in rural districts which suffer from fiscal inequity.

Jonathan Kozol s 1991 Savage Inequalities described the striking differences between public schools serving students of color in urban settings and their suburban counterparts, which typically spend twice as much per student for populations with many fewer special needs. Contrast MacKenzie High School in Detroit, where word processing courses are taught without word processors because the school cannot afford them, or East St. Louis Senior High School, whose biology lab has no laboratory tables or usable dissecting kits, with nearby suburban schools where children enjoy a computer hookup to Dow Jones to study stock transactions and science laboratories that rival those in some industries. Or contrast Paterson, New Jersey, which could not afford the qualified teachers needed to offer foreign language courses to most high school students, with Princeton, where foreign languages begin in elementary school.

Even within urban school districts, schools with high concentrations of low-income and minority students receive fewer instructional resources than others. And tracking systems exacerbate these inequalities by segregating many low-income and minority students within schools. In combination, these policies leave minority students with fewer and lower-quality books, curriculum materials, laboratories, and computers; significantly larger class sizes; less qualified and experienced teachers; and less access to high-quality curriculum. Many schools serving low-income and minority students do not even offer the math and science courses needed for college, and they provide lower-quality teaching in the classes they do offer. It all adds up.

What Difference Does it Make?

Since the 1966 Coleman report, Equality of Educational Opportunity, another debate has waged as to whether money makes a difference to educational outcomes. It is certainly possible to spend money ineffectively; however, studies that have developed more sophisticated measures of schooling show how money, properly spent, makes a difference. Over the past 30 years, a large body of research has shown that four factors consistently influence student achievement: all else equal, students perform better if they are educated in smaller schools where they are well known (300 to 500 students is optimal), have smaller class sizes (especially at the elementary level), receive a challenging curriculum, and have more highly qualified teachers.

Minority students are much less likely than white children to have any of these resources. In predominantly minority schools, which most students of color attend, schools are large (on average, more than twice as large as predominantly white schools and reaching 3,000 students or more in most cities); on average, class sizes are 15 percent larger overall (80 percent larger for non-special education classes); curriculum offerings and materials are lower in quality; and teachers are much less qualified in terms of levels of education, certification, and training in the fields they teach. And in integrated schools, as UCLA professor Jeannie Oakes described in the 1980s and Harvard professor Gary Orfield’s research has recently confirmed, most minority students are segregated in lower-track classes with larger class sizes, less qualified teachers, and lower-quality curriculum.

Research shows that teachers’ preparation makes a tremendous difference to children’s learning. In an analysis of 900 Texas school districts, Harvard economist Ronald Ferguson found that teachers’ expertise—as measured by scores on a licensing examination, master’s degrees, and experienc—was the single most important determinant of student achievement, accounting for roughly 40 percent of the measured variance in students’ reading and math achievement gains in grades 1-12. After controlling for socioeconomic status, the large disparities in achievement between black and white students were almost entirely due to differences in the qualifications of their teachers. In combination, differences in teacher expertise and class sizes accounted for as much of the measured variance in achievement as did student and family background (figure 1).

Ferguson and Duke economist Helen Ladd repeated this analysis in Alabama and again found sizable influences of teacher qualifications and smaller class sizes on achievement gains in math and reading. They found that more of the difference between the high- and low-scoring districts was explained by teacher qualifications and class sizes than by poverty, race, and parent education.

Meanwhile, a Tennessee study found that elementary school students who are assigned to ineffective teachers for three years in a row score nearly 50 percentile points lower on achievement tests than those assigned to highly effective teachers over the same period. Strikingly, minority students are about half as likely to be assigned to the most effective teachers and twice as likely to be assigned to the least effective.

Minority students are put at greatest risk by the American tradition of allowing enormous variation in the qualifications of teachers. The National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future found that new teachers hired without meeting certification standards (25 percent of all new teachers) are usually assigned to teach the most disadvantaged students in low-income and high-minority schools, while the most highly educated new teachers are hired largely by wealthier schools (figure 2). Students in poor or predominantly minority schools are much less likely to have teachers who are fully qualified or hold higher-level degrees. In schools with the highest minority enrollments, for example, students have less than a 50 percent chance of getting a math or science teacher with a license and a degree in the field. In 1994, fully one-third of teachers in high-poverty schools taught without a minor in their main field and nearly 70 percent taught without a minor in their secondary teaching field.

Studies of underprepared teachers consistently find that they are less effective with students and that they have difficulty with curriculum development, classroom management, student motivation, and teaching strategies. With little knowledge about how children grow, learn, and develop, or about what to do to support their learning, these teachers are less likely to understand students’ learning styles and differences, to anticipate students’ knowledge and potential difficulties, or to plan and redirect instruction to meet students’ needs. Nor are they likely to see it as their job to do so, often blaming the students if their teaching is not successful.

Teacher expertise and curriculum quality are interrelated, because a challenging curriculum requires an expert teacher. Research has found that both students and teachers are tracked: that is, the most expert teachers teach the most demanding courses to the most advantaged students, while lower-track students assigned to less able teachers receive lower-quality teaching and less demanding material. Assignment to tracks is also related to race: even when grades and test scores are comparable, black students are more likely to be assigned to lower-track, nonacademic classes.

When Opportunity Is More Equal

What happens when students of color do get access to more equal opportunities’ Studies find that curriculum quality and teacher skill make more difference to educational outcomes than the initial test scores or racial backgrounds of students. Analyses of national data from both the High School and Beyond Surveys and the National Educational Longitudinal Surveys have demonstrated that, while there are dramatic differences among students of various racial and ethnic groups in course-taking in such areas as math, science, and foreign language, for students with similar course-taking records, achievement test score differences by race or ethnicity narrow substantially.

Robert Dreeben and colleagues at the University of Chicago conducted a long line of studies documenting both the relationship between educational opportunities and student performance and minority students’ access to those opportunities. In a comparative study of 300 Chicago first graders, for example, Dreeben found that African-American and white students who had comparable instruction achieved comparable levels of reading skill. But he also found that the quality of instruction given African-American students was, on average, much lower than that given white students, thus creating a racial gap in aggregate achievement at the end of first grade. In fact, the highest-ability group in Dreeben’s sample was in a school in a low-income African-American neighborhood. These children, though, learned less during first grade than their white counterparts because their teacher was unable to provide the challenging instruction they deserved.

When schools have radically different teaching forces, the effects can be profound. For example, when Eleanor Armour-Thomas and colleagues compared a group of exceptionally effective elementary schools with a group of low-achieving schools with similar demographic characteristics in New York City, roughly 90 percent of the variance in student reading and mathematics scores at grades 3, 6, and 8 was a function of differences in teacher qualifications. The schools with highly qualified teachers serving large numbers of minority and low-income students performed as well as much more advantaged schools.

Most studies have estimated effects statistically. However, an experiment that randomly assigned seventh grade “at-risk”students to remedial, average, and honors mathematics classes found that the at-risk students who took the honors class offering a pre-algebra curriculum ultimately outperformed all other students of similar backgrounds. Another study compared African-American high school youth randomly placed in public housing in the Chicago suburbs with city-placed peers of equivalent income and initial academic attainment and found that the suburban students, who attended largely white and better-funded schools, were substantially more likely to take challenging courses, perform well academically, graduate on time, attend college, and find good jobs.

What Can Be Done?

This state of affairs is not inevitable. Last year the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future issued a blueprint for a comprehensive set of policies to ensure a “caring, competent, and qualified teacher for every child,” as well as schools organized to support student success. Twelve states are now working directly with the commission on this agenda, and others are set to join this year. Several pending bills to overhaul the federal Higher Education Act would ensure that highly qualified teachers are recruited and prepared for students in all schools. Federal policymakers can develop incentives, as they have in medicine, to guarantee well-prepared teachers in shortage fields and high-need locations. States can equalize education spending, enforce higher teaching standards, and reduce teacher shortages, as Connecticut, Kentucky, Minnesota, and North Carolina have already done. School districts can reallocate resources from administrative superstructures and special add-on programs to support better-educated teachers who offer a challenging curriculum in smaller schools and classes, as restructured schools as far apart as New York and San Diego have done. These schools, in communities where children are normally written off to lives of poverty, welfare dependency, or incarceration, already produce much higher levels of achievement for students of color, sending more than 90 percent of their students to college. Focusing on what matters most can make a real difference in what children have the opportunity to learn. This, in turn, makes a difference in what communities can accomplish.

An Entitlement to Good Teaching

The common presumption about educational inequality—that it resides primarily in those students who come to school with inadequate capacities to benefit from what the school has to offer—continues to hold wide currency because the extent of inequality in opportunities to learn is largely unknown. We do not currently operate schools on the presumption that students might be entitled to decent teaching and schooling as a matter of course. In fact, some state and local defendants have countered school finance and desegregation cases with assertions that such remedies are not required unless it can be proven that they will produce equal outcomes. Such arguments against equalizing opportunities to learn have made good on DuBois’s prediction that the problem of the 20th century would be the problem of the color line.

But education resources do make a difference, particularly when funds are used to purchase well-qualified teachers and high-quality curriculum and to create personalized learning communities in which children are well known. In all of the current sturm und drang about affirmative action, “special treatment,” and the other high-volatility buzzwords for race and class politics in this nation, I would offer a simple starting point for the next century s efforts: no special programs, just equal educational opportunity.

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May 16, 2024

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Race Ethnicity and Education

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Supported by the AERA Critical Examination of Race, Ethnicity, Class and Gender in Education Special Interest Group and the BERA ’Race’ Ethnicity and Education Special Interest Group.

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Still Separate, Still Unequal: Teaching about School Segregation and Educational Inequality

research questions about race and education

By Keith Meatto

  • May 2, 2019

Racial segregation in public education has been illegal for 65 years in the United States. Yet American public schools remain largely separate and unequal — with profound consequences for students, especially students of color.

Today’s teachers and students should know that the Supreme Court declared racial segregation in schools to be unconstitutional in the landmark 1954 ruling Brown v. Board of Education . Perhaps less well known is the extent to which American schools are still segregated. According to a recent Times article , “More than half of the nation’s schoolchildren are in racially concentrated districts, where over 75 percent of students are either white or nonwhite.” In addition, school districts are often segregated by income. The nexus of racial and economic segregation has intensified educational gaps between rich and poor students, and between white students and students of color.

Although many students learn about the historical struggles to desegregate schools in the civil rights era, segregation as a current reality is largely absent from the curriculum.

“No one is really talking about school segregation anymore,” Elise C. Boddie and Dennis D. Parker wrote in this 2018 Op-Ed essay. “That’s a shame because an abundance of research shows that integration is still one of the most effective tools that we have for achieving racial equity.”

The teaching activities below, written directly to students, use recent Times articles as a way to grapple with segregation and educational inequality in the present. This resource considers three essential questions:

• How and why are schools still segregated in 2019? • What repercussions do segregated schools have for students and society? • What are potential remedies to address school segregation?

School segregation and educational inequity may be a sensitive and uncomfortable topic for students and teachers, regardless of their race, ethnicity or economic status. Nevertheless, the topics below offer entry points to an essential conversation, one that affects every American student and raises questions about core American ideals of equality and fairness.

Six Activities for Students to Investigate School Segregation and Educational Inequality

Activity #1: Warm-Up: Visualize segregation and inequality in education.

Based on civil rights data released by the United States Department of Education, the nonprofit news organization ProPublica has built an interactive database to examine racial disparities in educational opportunities and school discipline. In this activity, which might begin a deeper study of school segregation, you can look up your own school district, or individual public or charter school, to see how it compares with its counterparts.

To get started: Scroll down to the interactive map of the United States in this ProPublica database and then answer the following questions:

1. Click the tabs “Opportunity,” “Discipline,” “Segregation” and “Achievement Gap” and answer these two simple questions: What do you notice? What do you wonder? (These are the same questions we ask as part of our “ What’s Going On in This Graph? ” weekly discussions.) 2. Next, click the tabs “Black” and “Hispanic.” What do you notice? What do you wonder? 3. Search for your school or district in the database. What do you notice in the results? What questions do you have?

For Further Exploration

Research your own school district. Then write an essay, create an oral presentation or make an annotated map on segregation and educational inequity in your community, using data from the Miseducation database.

Activity #2: Explore a case study: schools in Charlottesville, Va.

The New York Times and ProPublica investigated how segregation still plays a role in shaping students’ educational experiences in the small Virginia city of Charlottesville. The article begins:

Zyahna Bryant and Trinity Hughes, high school seniors, have been friends since they were 6, raised by blue-collar families in this affluent college town. They played on the same T-ball and softball teams, and were in the same church group. But like many African-American children in Charlottesville, Trinity lived on the south side of town and went to a predominantly black neighborhood elementary school. Zyahna lived across the train tracks, on the north side, and was zoned to a mostly white school, near the University of Virginia campus, that boasts the city’s highest reading scores.

Before you read the rest of the article, and learn about the experiences of Zyahna and Trinity, answer the following questions based on your own knowledge, experience and opinions:

• What is the purpose of public education? • Do all children in America receive the same quality of education? • Is receiving a quality public education a right (for everyone) or a privilege (for some)? • Is there a correlation between students’ race and the quality of education they receive?

Now read the entire article about lingering segregation in Charlottesville and answer the following questions:

1. How is Charlottesville’s school district geographically and racially segregated? 2. How is Charlottesville a microcosm of education in America? 3. How do white and black students in Charlottesville compare in terms of participation in gifted and talented programs; being held back a grade; being suspended from school? 4. How do black and white students in Charlottesville compare in terms of reading at grade level? 5. How do Charlottesville school officials explain the disparities between white and black students? 6. Why are achievement disparities so common in college towns? 7. In what ways do socioeconomics not fully explain the gap between white and black students?

After reading the article and answering the above questions, share your reactions using the following prompts:

• Did anything in the article surprise you? Shock you? Make you angry or sad? Why? • On the other hand, did anything in the article strike you as unsurprising? Explain. • How might education in Charlottesville be made more equitable?

Choose one or more of the following ideas to investigate school segregation in the United States and around the world.

1. Read and discuss “ In a Divided Bosnia, Segregated Schools Persist .” Compare and contrast the situations in Bosnia and Charlottesville. How does this perspective confirm, challenge, or complicate your understanding of the topic?

2. Read and discuss the article and study the map and graphs in “ Why Are New York’s Schools Segregated? It’s Not as Simple as Housing .” How does “school choice” confirm, challenge or complicate your understanding of segregation and educational inequity?

3. Only a tiny number of black students were offered admission to the highly selective public high schools in New York City in 2019, raising the pressure on officials to confront the decades-old challenge of integrating New York’s elite public schools. To learn more about this story, listen to this episode of The Daily . For more information, read these Op-Ed essays and editorials offering different perspectives on the problem and possible solutions. Then, make a case for what should be done — or not done — to make New York’s elite public schools more diverse.

• Stop Fixating on One Elite High School, Stuyvesant. There Are Bigger Problems. • How Elite Schools Stay So White • No Ethnic Group Owns Stuyvesant. All New Yorkers Do. • De Blasio’s Plan for NYC Schools Isn’t Anti-Asian. It’s Anti-Racist. • New York’s Best Schools Need to Do Better

3. Read and discuss “ The Resegregation of Jefferson County .” How does this story confirm, challenge or complicate your understanding of the topic?

Activity #3: Investigate the relationship between school segregation, funding and inequality.

Some school districts have more money to spend on education than others. Does this funding inequality have anything to do with lingering segregation in public schools? A recent report says yes. A New York Times article published in February begins:

School districts that predominantly serve students of color received $23 billion less in funding than mostly white school districts in the United States in 2016, despite serving the same number of students, a new report found. The report, released this week by the nonprofit EdBuild, put a dollar amount on the problem of school segregation, which has persisted long after Brown v. Board of Education and was targeted in recent lawsuits in states from New Jersey to Minnesota. The estimate also came as teachers across the country have protested and gone on strike to demand more funding for public schools.

Answer the following questions based on your own knowledge, experience and opinions.

• Who pays for public schools? • Is there a correlation between money and education? Does the amount of money a school spends on students influence the quality of the education students receive?

Now read the rest of the Times article about funding differences between mostly white school districts and mostly nonwhite ones, and then answer the following questions:

1. How much less total funding do school districts that serve predominantly students of color receive compared to school districts that serve predominantly white students? 2. Why are school district borders problematic? 3. How many of the nation’s schoolchildren are in “racially concentrated districts, where over 75 percent of students are either white or nonwhite”? 4. How much less money, on average, do nonwhite districts receive than white districts? 5. How are school districts funded? 6. How does lack of school funding affect classrooms? 7. What is the new kind of ”white flight” in Arizona and why is it a problem? 8. What is an “enclave”? What does the statement “some school districts have become their own enclaves” mean?

• Did anything in the article surprise you? Shock you? Make you angry or sad? Why? • On the other hand, did anything in the article strike you as unsurprising? Explain. • How could school funding be made more equitable?

Choose one or more of the following ideas to investigate the interrelationship among school segregation, funding and inequality.

1. Research your local school district budget, using public records or local media, such as newspapers or television reporting. What is the budget per student? How does that budget compare with the state average? The national average? 2. Compare your findings about your local school budget to your research about segregation and student outcomes, using the Miseducation database. Do the results of your research suggest any correlations?

Activity #4: Examine potential legal remedies to school segregation and educational inequality.

How do we get better schools for all children? One way might be to take the state to court. A Times article from August reports on a wave of lawsuits that argue that states are violating their constitutions by denying children a quality education. The article begins:

By his own account, Alejandro Cruz-Guzman’s five children have received a good education at public schools in St. Paul. His two oldest daughters are starting careers in finance and teaching. Another daughter, a high-school student, plans to become a doctor. But their success, Mr. Cruz-Guzman said, flows partly from the fact that he and his wife fought for their children to attend racially integrated schools outside their neighborhood. Their two youngest children take a bus 30 minutes each way to Murray Middle School, where the student population is about one-third white, one-third black, 16 percent Asian and 9 percent Latino. “I wanted to have my kids exposed to different cultures and learn from different people,” said Mr. Cruz-Guzman, who owns a small flooring company and is an immigrant from Mexico. When his two oldest children briefly attended a charter school that was close to 100 percent Latino, he said he had realized, “We are limiting our kids to one community.” Now Mr. Cruz-Guzman is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit saying that Minnesota knowingly allowed towns and cities to set policies and zoning boundaries that led to segregated schools, lowering test scores and graduation rates for low-income and nonwhite children.

Read the entire article and then answer the following questions:

1. What does Mr. Cruz-Guzman’s suit allege against the State of Minnesota? 2. Why are advocates for school funding equity focused on state government, as opposed to the federal government? 3. What did a state judge rule in New Mexico? What did the Kansas Supreme Court rule? 4. What fraction of fourth and eighth graders in New Mexico is not proficient in reading? What does research suggest may improve their test scores? 5. According to a 2016 study, if a school spends 10 percent more per pupil, what percentage more would students earn as adults? 6. What does the economist Eric Hanushek argue about the correlation between spending and student achievement? 7. What remedy for school segregation is Daniel Shulman, the lead lawyer in the Minnesota desegregation suit, considering? Why are charter schools nervous about the case? 8. How does Khulia Pringle see some charter schools as “culturally affirming”? What problems does Ms. Pringle see with busing white children to black schools and vice versa?

• Did anything in the article surprise you? What other emotional responses did you have while reading? Why? • On the other hand, did anything in the article strike you as unsurprising? Explain. • Do the potential “cultural” benefits of school segregation outweigh the costs?

Choose one or more of the following ideas to investigate potential remedies to school segregation and educational inequality.

1. Read the obituaries “ Jean Fairfax, Unsung but Undeterred in Integrating Schools, Dies at 98 ” and “ Linda Brown, Symbol of Landmark Desegregation Case, Dies at 75 .” How do their lives inform your grasp of legal challenges to segregation?

2. Watch the following video about school busing . How does this history inform your understanding of the benefits and challenges of busing?

3. Read about how parents in two New York City school districts are trying to tackle segregation in local middle schools . Then decide if these models have potential for other districts in New York or around the country. Why or why not?

Activity #5: Consider alternatives to integration.

Is integration the best and only choice for families who feel their children are being denied a quality education? A recent Times article reports on how some black families in New York City are choosing an alternative to integration. The article begins:

“I love myself!” the group of mostly black children shouted in unison. “I love my hair, I love my skin!” When it was time to settle down, their teacher raised her fist in a black power salute. The students did the same, and the room hushed. As children filed out of the cramped school auditorium on their way to class, they walked by posters of Colin Kaepernick and Harriet Tubman. It was a typical morning at Ember Charter School in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, an Afrocentric school that sits in a squat building on a quiet block in a neighborhood long known as a center of black political power. Though New York City has tried to desegregate its schools in fits and starts since the 1954 Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, the school system is now one of the most segregated in the nation. But rather than pushing for integration, some black parents in Bedford-Stuyvesant are choosing an alternative: schools explicitly designed for black children.

Before you read the rest of the article, answer the following questions based on your own knowledge, experience and opinions:

• Should voluntary segregation in schools be permissible? Why or why not? • What potential benefits might voluntary segregation offer? • What potential problems might it pose?

Now, read the entire article and then answer these questions:

1. What is the goal of Afrocentric schools? 2. Why are some parents and educators enthusiastic about Afrocentric schools? 3. Why are some experts wary of Afrocentric schools? 4. What does Alisa Nutakor want to offer minority students at Ember? 5. What position does the city’s schools chancellor take on Afrocentric schools? 6. What “modest desegregation plans” have some districts offered? With what result? 7. Why did Fela Barclift found Little Sun People? 8. Why are some parents ambivalent about school integration? According to them, how can schools be more responsive to students of color? 9. What does Mutale Nkonde mean by the phrase “not all boats are rising”? 10. What did Jordan Pierre gain from his experience at Eagle Academy?

• Did anything in the article surprise you? What other emotional responses did you have while reading? Why? • On the other hand, did anything in the article strike you as unsurprising? Explain. • Did the article challenge your opinion about voluntary segregation? How?

Choose one or more of the following ideas to investigate some of the complicating factors that influence where parents decide to send their children to school.

1. Read and discuss “ Choosing a School for My Daughter in a Segregated City .” How does reading about segregation, inequity and school choice from a parent’s perspective confirm, challenge or complicate your understanding of the topic?

2. Read “ Do Students Get a Subpar Education in Yeshivas? ” How might a student’s religious affiliation complicate the issue of segregation and inequity in education?

Activity #6: Learn more and take action.

Segregation still persists in public schools more than 60 years after the Brown v. Board of Education decision. What more can you learn about the issue? What choices can you make? Is there anything students can do about the issue?

Write a personal essay about your experience with school segregation. For inspiration, read Erin Aubrey Kaplan’s op-ed essay, “ School Choice Is the Enemy of Justice ,” which links a contemporary debate with the author’s personal experience of school segregation.

Interview a parent, grandparent or another adult about their educational experiences related to segregation, integration and inequity in education. Compare their experiences with your own. Share your findings in a paper, presentation or class discussion.

Take action by writing a letter about segregation and educational inequity in your community. Send the letter to a person or organization with local influence, such as the school board, an elected official or your local newspaper.

Discuss the issue in your school or district by raising the topic with your student council, parent association or school board. Be prepared with information you discovered in your research and bring relevant questions.

Additional Resources

Choices in Little Rock | Facing History and Ourselves

Beyond Brown: Pursuing the Promise | PBS

Why Are American Public Schools Still So Segregated? | KQED

Toolkit for “Segregation by Design” | Teaching Tolerance

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Discussion Questions for Teaching While Black

Pamela Lewis

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These discussion questions accompany Teaching While Black: A New Voice on Race and Education in New York City .

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Lewis, Pamela, "Discussion Questions for Teaching While Black" (2020). Education . 6. https://research.library.fordham.edu/education/6

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Classroom Q&A

With larry ferlazzo.

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to [email protected]. Read more from this blog.

Equity? Equality? How Educators Can Tell the Difference

research questions about race and education

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Today’s post is the latest in a series on the difference between equity and equality .

‘Every Student Doesn’t Need the Same Thing’

Karen Baptiste, Ed.D., a senior consultant at McREL International, is a former special education teacher, instructional coach, and director who now works with K–12 schools across the United States to support improved teaching and learning. She is a co-author of The New Classroom Instruction That Works :

It’s common for educators to believe and teach that everyone should be treated fairly and equally. Having been a special education teacher, and being a person of color, I understand the impact on a child’s life when we treat everyone equally.

Equality, in general terms, is the belief that everyone should get the same treatment, the same resources, and the same starting point. That would be OK if our society did not rank race, gender, (dis)ability, religion, etc. Unfortunately, people of color have dealt with racism and oppression for hundreds of years, and they have not had equal treatment, fairness, nor the same starting point. When teachers say they want equality, what they are saying is that they want all of their students to be treated the same and, therefore, do not see or acknowledge the differences among their students.

When an educator says they believe in equality over equity, they overlook their students’ unique characteristics, abilities, and traits that make them who they are and alleviate themselves from the responsibility of having to address their students’ needs. Most people want to avoid discomfort, especially when the topic of race is surfaced. There is fear of getting it wrong or being accused of being a racist, so it’s easier to say “I treat all of my students the same.”

Equity acknowledges and addresses the unique needs of each student, and it is what we need to work toward. Because of my dark skin, and because of my gender, and because of the texture of my hair, and because of the language I speak, I am born into a world where I am too often dismissed and seen as inferior, not just in school but at work, when buying a home, shopping at the grocery store, traveling, and engaging in any part of living life. There is no part of our lives that has gone untouched by racism and/or discrimination. People of color are still fighting today to be seen and heard as an equal, valued member in the world. Until that happens, we can’t talk about equality.

Equity says I see you.

Equity says I want to understand you.

Equity says I accept your Black and brown skin.

Equity says there is nothing wrong with you or your existence in the world.

Equity says I recognize your learning needs and I am willing to learn the best ways to teach you and provide you with the resources that you need to be successful so that you can feel equal in this space.

Every student doesn’t need the same thing. Equality pushes for everyone to get the same thing, while equity is about giving every student what they need to be successful. Let’s set aside the topic of race momentarily and think about the grave outcomes if we treat students with special needs equal to their peers without special needs. What if the expectation during physical education class is to run two laps in a specified time? Students who use a wheelchair cannot realistically meet that expectation. This is why the federal law requires children designated for special education services to have an individualized education program, because their needs are not equal; they do not need equal treatment, they need equitable treatment and resources in order to access a quality education. Now, think about your student in class who needs to use manipulatives during a math lesson while other students can do mental math.

All students learn differently and can meet mastery when equity becomes part of your practice. Some might consider this pedantic when discussing equality and equity, but it’s not. Providing students with the resources they need to be successful provides them with the psychological safety that is sometimes missing in classrooms but gravely needed.


‘Equity Is Not an Initiative’

PJ Caposey is the Illinois Superintendent of the Year and is a best-selling author, having written nine books for various publishers. PJ is a sought after presenter and consultant who has a widely read weekly newsletter available at www.pjcaposey.com :

Sometimes, I think the concept of equity compared to equality is very difficult and complex. Other times, I think it is straightforward and people out of an act of willful ignorance choose not to understand. I work hard to keep a positive mindset, so my intent in this is to provide six practical examples to demonstrate the difference and how it plays out in schools.

  • A student’s grandmother is in the hospital, and their attendance suffers, so you modify some assignments to ensure you are measuring their progress toward standards but limiting the volume to best meet the student’s needs. EQUITY
  • A student’s grandmother is in the hospital, and their attendance suffers, and you keep them responsible for the exact work everyone else must complete. EQUALITY
  • A student struggles to read and has a documented disability, so their tests are read to them. EQUITY
  • A student struggles to read and has a documented disability, but you provide zero assistance to them because it would not be fair to the other students. EQUALITY
  • A district analyzes their data and creates plans to close achievement gaps by paying special attention to those groups not performing well. EQUITY
  • A district analyzes their data and creates improvement plans that are equally applied to all students. EQUALITY
  • Based on benchmark assessment results, some students are placed in intervention groupings to support their learning needs. EQUITY
  • Despite assessment results, all students receive the exact same instruction throughout the course of the day. EQUALITY
  • All students who wish to participate in Advanced Placement courses are allowed to do so despite previous performance if they attend an in-person meeting articulating the demands of the course. EQUITY
  • Only students who have a 3.2 grade point average and have had less than five missing assignments per year on average are allowed to participate in Advanced Placement courses without any exceptions. EQUALITY
  • Some staff members have advanced degrees in reading so their professional development requirements around the new reading curriculum are altered to acknowledge their expertise. EQUITY
  • All staff members are required to attend the same professional development regardless of prior knowledge or expertise. EQUALITY

My point in sharing these very realistic examples of equity versus equality is twofold. I have come to the realization that we “DO” equity far more than some people would elect to realize. Second, even those who are reluctant to embrace the fact that schools should have an equity focus typically want schools to make equitable decisions when it comes to them or their children. From that statement, feel free to extrapolate what you will.

I will leave with one last thought on the topic. Equity is not a goal. Equity is not an initiative. Equity is a mindset and a lens through which we make innumerable decisions every single day. Whenever we consider how we can best serve an individual student or lead an individual staff member by meeting them where they are at and helping them to get where they need to be, we are operating with an equity mindset.


‘Equity Empowers’

A retired teacher and speaker, Denise Fawcett Facey now writes on education issues. Among her books, Can I Be in Your Class focuses on ways to enliven classroom learning:

The words “That’s not fair” have become a virtual children’s anthem. Heard from homes to playgrounds to classrooms, those three words—spoken almost in the cadence of a song—are the outcry of kids everywhere, conveying their frustration over what they perceive as unequal treatment when things don’t go as they expected. Although we tend to ignore that all-too-common outburst, the early sense of justice that underlies it just as often informs adult concepts of equality as well, fostering an expectation that everyone will be treated the same. However, there is a striking difference between appearing to treat everyone equally and ensuring that everyone has the equity offered by an equal opportunity.

In an educational setting, affording everyone an equal chance at success means equity supersedes equality. From differentiation in teaching methods to the hiring of teachers, among other factors, here are four differences between equality and equity:

  • Differentiation. Just as we don’t expect all students to wear eyeglasses in the name of equality, we shouldn’t expect all students to learn in the same way, either. Differentiation settles that. Providing what each student needs for optimal learning, it might be as simple as eyeglasses, preferential seating, or extended time for assignments. However, the chance to present mastery in multiple ways or to use books and other resources that are culturally relevant are also means of differentiation. Although the content area is the same for all students, as are the myriad tools available (there’s your equality), each uses the tool that enables that student to achieve success. That’s not only differentiation. It’s equity.
  • Admission to gifted classes. While white, able-bodied students of a certain intellectual ability and socioeconomic level generally have an equal opportunity to be admitted to classes for gifted students, admission tends to exclude students of color as well as students with physical disabilities and those of lower socioeconomic levels, all of whom have eligible students among them. Equality makes certain that all schools have classes for gifted students. Equity goes beyond that, seeking to identify gifted students among those underrepresented groups within each school and assuring that they also gain admittance to gifted classes once identified.
  • Hiring diverse teachers. It’s easy to point with pride to teachers of color in a district or to teachers who use wheelchairs, believing them to be reflections of equality and diversity. However, how many are there? And where are these teachers placed? Equality merely says there are some of each. Equity provides an equal opportunity for ALL teachers to teach at any school, not simply affording them an interview at the “better” schools with no hope of being hired nor relegating these teachers to schools designated “inner city” or “low achieving.” Equity also ensures that the number of teachers outside the dominant group is at least representative of their numbers in that community.
  • A seat at the table. Much like hiring practices, opening a committee or group to people not normally invited is ostensibly equality. After all, this type of equality frequently involves having “one of each kind,” so to speak, with representation from various racial and ethnic groups and possibly from different ability groups as well. However, it’s certainly not equity as the newly invited are expected to be grateful for the invitation, not to be bold enough to participate as equals. Without affording these participants a genuine voice, it’s educational tokenism that solely allows one to be present. Equity, on the other hand, balances power, legitimizing each person’s voice.

Returning to that childhood question of fairness, equity is the true answer for both students and educators. Offering an equal playing field for success, equity empowers, placing everyone on equal footing.


Thanks to Karen, PJ, and Denise for contributing their thoughts!

Today’s post answered this question:

It’s not unusual for districts, schools, and educators to confuse “equality” with “equity.” What are examples, and ways, you would help them understand the difference?

Part One in this series featured responses from Jehan Hakim, Mary Rice-Boothe, Jennifer Cárdenas, and Shaun Nelms.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at [email protected] . When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo .

Just a reminder; you can subscribe and receive updates from this blog via email . And if you missed any of the highlights from the first 12 years of this blog, you can see a categorized list here .

The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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ACE Releases 2024 Update to Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education Project May 21, 2024

As the diversity of the U.S. population increased, more Hispanic and Latino, Black and African American students have enrolled in undergraduate programs over the last 20 years, according to data outlined in the report. However, completion rates have not risen accordingly—the number of Hispanic or Latino students earning bachelor’s degrees rose about 10 percent from 2002 to 2022, while the rates for white and Asian students grew even faster, widening the existing gaps.

Black or African American students consistently had lower completion rates than those of any other racial and ethnic group. Black or African American, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, Hispanic or Latino, and American Indian or Alaska Native students earned a larger share of associate degrees and certificates, while bachelor’s degrees are mainly earned by Asian, White, and multiracial students.

“Despite some progress, racial disparities are still alarmingly high, especially in light of the Supreme Court’s decision to end race-conscious admissions,” stated Ted Mitchell, the president of ACE. “This report is timely for everyone involved in higher education—administrators, researchers, policymakers. It allows us to examine the current state of race and ethnicity in higher education and strive to bridge these equity gaps.”

The data also reveal disparities in how students pay for college, with Black or African American undergraduate students borrowing at the highest rates across all sectors and income groups (49.7 percent). Hispanic or Latino and Asian students borrowed at lower-than-average rates. However, Asian students borrowed the highest amount per borrower when including parent loans.

Additionally, the report provides a look at the diversity of faculty and staff across race and ethnicity. In 2021, 69.4 percent of all full-time faculty and 56.2 percent of newly hired full-time faculty were White, compared to Black or African American full-time faculty (6.1 percent) and new full-time faculty (9.3 percent).

“This report is just one of the ways ACE is working to democratize data by creating accessible and actionable insights that empower evidence-inspired decision-making across the postsecondary landscape,” said Hironao Okahana, assistant vice president and executive director of ACE’s Education Futures Lab. “This work bolsters our engagement in the data ecosystem, such as our partnership with the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies, to strengthen and lead the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI ) and the recently announced Global Data Consortium Initiative.”

This status report builds on the findings from preceding publications in the Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education series. It presents 201 indicators drawn from eight data sources, most of which come from the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Census Bureau. The indicators present a snapshot of the most recent publicly available data, while others depict data over time. 

The Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education: 2024 Status Report was made possible through the generous support of the Mellon Foundation. The accompanying website was generously supported by the Mellon Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

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Is College Worth It?

1. labor market and economic trends for young adults, table of contents.

  • Labor force trends and economic outcomes for young adults
  • Economic outcomes for young men
  • Economic outcomes for young women
  • Wealth trends for households headed by a young adult
  • The importance of a four-year college degree
  • Getting a high-paying job without a college degree
  • Do Americans think their education prepared them for the workplace?
  • Is college worth the cost?
  • Acknowledgments
  • The American Trends Panel survey methodology
  • Current Population Survey methodology
  • Survey of Consumer Finances methodology

A majority of the nation’s 36 million workers ages 25 to 34 have not completed a four-year college degree. In 2023, there were 19 million young workers who had some college or less education, including those who had not finished high school.

Chart shows Number of U.S. workers without a college degree peaked around 1990

The overall number of employed young adults has grown over the decades as more young women joined the workforce. The number of employed young adults without a college degree peaked around 1990 at 25 million and then started to fall, as more young people began finishing college .

This chapter looks at the following key labor market and economic trends separately for young men and young women by their level of education:

Labor force participation

  • Individual earnings

Household income

  • Net worth 1

When looking at how young adults are doing in the job market, it generally makes the most sense to analyze men and women separately. They tend to work in different occupations and have different career patterns, and their educational paths have diverged in recent decades.

In 1970, almost all young men whose highest educational attainment was a high school diploma (98%) were in the labor force, meaning they were working or looking for work. By 2013, only 88% of high school-educated young men were in the labor force. Today, that share is 87%.

Chart shows Labor force participation has declined among young men without a college degree

Similarly, 96% of young men whose highest attainment was some college education were in the labor force in 1970. Today, the share is 89%.

By comparison, labor force participation among young men with at least a bachelor’s degree has remained relatively stable these past few decades. Today, 94% of young men with at least a bachelor’s degree are in the labor force.

The long-running decline in the labor force participation of young men without a bachelor’s degree may be due to several factors, including declining wages , the types of jobs available to this group becoming less desirable, rising incarceration rates and the opioid epidemic . 2

Looking at labor force and earnings trends over the past several decades, it’s important to keep in mind broader forces shaping the national job market.

The Great Recession officially ended in June 2009, but the national job market recovered slowly . At the beginning of the Great Recession in the fourth quarter of 2007, the national unemployment rate was 4.6%. Unemployment peaked at 10.4% in the first quarter of 2010. It was not until the fourth quarter of 2016 that unemployment finally returned to its prerecession level (4.5%).

Studies suggest that things started to look up for less-skilled workers around 2014. Among men with less education, hourly earnings began rising in 2014 after a decade of stagnation. Wage growth for low-wage workers also picked up in 2014. The tightening labor markets in the last five years of the expansion after the Great Recession improved the labor market prospects of “vulnerable workers” considerably.

The COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the tight labor market, but the COVID-19 recession and recovery were quite different from the Great Recession in their job market impact. The more recent recession was arguably more severe, as the national unemployment rate reached 12.9% in the second quarter of 2020. But it was short – officially lasting two months, compared with the 18-month Great Recession – and the labor market bounced back much quicker. Unemployment was 3.3% before the COVID-19 recession; three years later, unemployment had once again returned to that level.

Full-time, full-year employment

Chart shows Among employed young men without a college degree, the share working full time has risen significantly since the Great Recession

Since the Great Recession of 2007-09, young men without a four-year college degree have seen a significant increase in the average number of hours they work.

  • Today, 77% of young workers with a high school education work full time, full year, compared with 69% in 2011.
  • 83% of young workers with some college education work full time, full year, compared with 70% in 2011.

The share of young men with a college degree who work full time, year-round has remained fairly steady in recent decades – at about 80% – and hasn’t fluctuated with good or bad economic cycles.

Annual earnings

Annual earnings for young men without a college degree were on a mostly downward path from 1973 until roughly 10 years ago (with the exception of a bump in the late 1990s). 3

Earnings have been increasing modestly over the past decade for these groups.

Chart shows Earnings of young men without a college degree have trended upward over the past 10 years

  • Young men with a high school education who are working full time, full year have median earnings of $45,000 today, up from $39,300 in 2014. (All figures are in 2022 dollars.)
  • The median earnings of young men with some college education who are working full time, full year are $50,000 today, similar to their median earnings in 2014 ($49,100).

It’s important to note that median annual earnings for both groups of noncollege men remain below their 1973 levels.

Median earnings for young men with a four-year college degree have increased over the past 10 years, from $67,500 in 2014 to $77,000 today.

Unlike young men without a college degree, the earnings of college-educated young men are now above what they were in the early 1970s. The gap in median earnings between young men with and without a college degree grew significantly from the late 1970s to 2014. In 1973, the typical young man with a degree earned 23% more than his high school-educated counterpart. By 2014, it was 72% more. Today, that gap stands at 71%. 4

Household income has also trended up for young men in the past 10 years, regardless of educational attainment.

Chart shows Household incomes of young men without a college degree have significantly increased the past 10 years

This measure takes into account the contributions of everyone in the household. For this analysis, we excluded young men who are living in their parents’ home (about 20% of 25- to 34-year-old men in 2023).

  • The median household income of young men with a high school education is $75,200 today, up from $63,800 in 2014. This is slightly lower than the highpoint reached around 2019.
  • The median household income of young men with some college education is $92,200 today, up from $81,100 in 2014. This is close to the 2022 peak of $93,800.

The median household income of young men with at least a bachelor’s degree has also increased from a low point of $118,700 in 2014 after the Great Recession to $145,000 today.

The gap in household income between young men with and without a college degree grew significantly between 1980 and 2014. In 1980, the median household income of young men with at least a bachelor’s degree was about 38% more than that of high school graduates. By 2014, that gap had widened to 86%.

Over the past 10 years, the income gap has fluctuated. In 2023, the typical college graduate’s household income was 93% more than that of the typical high school graduate.

The 2001 recession and Great Recession resulted in a large increase in poverty among young men without a college degree.

Chart shows Poverty among young men without a college degree has declined since 2014

  • In 2000, among young men living independently of their parents, 8% of those with a high school education were in poverty. Poverty peaked for this group at 17% around 2011 and has since declined to 12% in 2023.
  • Among young men with some college education, poverty peaked at 12% around 2014, up from 4% in 2000. Poverty has fallen for this group since 2014 and stands at 8% as of 2023.
  • Young men with a four-year college degree also experienced a slight uptick in poverty during the 2001 recession and Great Recession. In 2014, 6% of young college graduates were in poverty, up from 4% in 2000. Poverty among college graduates stands at 5% in 2023.

Labor force trends for young women are very different than for young men. There are occupational and educational differences between young women and men, and their earnings have followed different patterns.

Unlike the long-running decline for noncollege young men, young women without a college degree saw their labor force participation increase steadily from 1970 to about 1990.

Chart shows Labor force participation of young women without a college degree has risen since 2014

By 2000, about three-quarters of young women with a high school diploma and 79% of those with some college education were in the labor force.

Labor force participation has also trended upward for college-educated young women and has consistently been higher than for those with less education.

After rising for decades, labor force participation for young women without a college degree fell during the 2001 recession and the Great Recession. Their labor force participation has increased slightly since 2014.

As of 2023, 69% of young women with a high school education were in the labor force, as were 78% of young women with some college education. Today’s level of labor force participation for young women without a college degree is slightly lower than the level seen around 2000.

The decline in labor force participation for noncollege women partly reflects the declining labor force participation for mothers with children under 18 years of age . Other research has suggested that without federal paid parental and family leave benefits for parents, some women with less education may leave the labor force after having a baby.

In contrast, labor force participation for young women with a college degree has fully recovered from the recessions of the early 2000s. Today, 87% of college-educated young women are in the labor force, the highest estimate on record.

Young women without a college degree have steadily increased their work hours over the decades. The past 10 years in particular have seen a significant increase in the share of employed noncollege women working full time, full year (with the exception of 2021).

Chart shows Share of employed young women with a high school diploma working full-time is the highest it’s ever been

  • In 2023, 69% of employed young women with a high school education worked full time, full year, up from 56% in 2014. This share is the highest it’s ever been.
  • In 2023, 65% of employed women with some college worked full time, full year, up from 58% in 2014. This is among the highest levels ever.

The trend in the share working full time, full year has been similar for young women with college degrees. By 2023, 78% of these women worked full time, full year, the highest share it’s ever been.

Unlike young men, young women without a college education did not see their earnings fall between 1970 and 2000.

Chart shows Earnings of young women without a college degree have trended up in the past decade

The 2001 recession and Great Recession also did not significantly impact the earnings of noncollege young women. In the past 10 years, their median earnings have trended upward.

  • For young women with a high school diploma, median earnings reached $36,000 in 2023, up from $30,900 in 2014.
  • For those with some college, median earnings rose to $40,000 in 2023 from $37,700 in 2014.

For young women with a college degree, median earnings rose steadily from the mid-1980s until the early 2000s. By 2003, they reached $62,100, but this declined to $55,200 by 2014. In the past 10 years, the median earnings of college-educated young women have risen, reaching $65,000 in 2023.

In the mid-1980s, the typical young woman with a college degree earned about 48% more than her counterpart with a high school diploma. The pay gap among women has widened since then, and by 2014, the typical college graduate earned 79% more than the typical high school graduate. The gap has changed little over the past 10 years.

Noncollege young women living independently from their parents have experienced large household income gains over the past 10 years, measured at the median.

Chart shows Median household income of young women without a college degree has increased in the past 10 years

  • In 2023, young women with a high school diploma had a median household income of $61,600, up from $48,100 in 2014.
  • The pattern is similar for young women with some college education. Their median income rose to $75,200 in 2023 from $64,600 in 2014.

The median household income for young women with a four-year college degree is significantly higher than it is for their counterparts without a degree. College-educated young women have made substantial gains in the past 10 years.

The income gap between young women with and without a college degree has widened over the decades. In 1980, the median household income of young women with a college degree was 50% higher than that of high school-educated women. By 2014, the income gap had grown to 139%. Today, the household income advantage of college-educated women stands at 121% ($136,000 vs. $61,600).

Chart shows Poverty among young women without a college degree has steeply declined in the past 10 years

Poverty trends for young women mirror those for young men, although young women are overall more likely to be in poverty than young men. The past 10 years have resulted in a steep reduction in the share of noncollege women in poverty.

  • Today, 21% of young women with a high school diploma are living in poverty. This is down from 31% in 2014.
  • 15% of young women with some college education live in poverty, compared with 21% in 2014.
  • Young women with a college degree are consistently far less likely than either group to be living in poverty (5% in 2023).

Along with young adults’ rising incomes over the past 10 years, there’s been a substantial increase in their wealth. This part of our analysis does not look at men and women separately due to limitations in sample size.

Chart shows The typical net worth of young adults with and without college degrees has increased over the past 10 years

In 2022, households headed by a young high school graduate had a median net worth of $30,700, up from $12,700 in 2013. Those headed by a young adult with some college education had a median net worth of $52,900, up from $15,700 in 2013.

The typical wealth level of households headed by a young college graduate was $120,200 in 2022, up from $46,600 in 2013.

There has not been any significant narrowing of the wealth gap between young high school graduate and young college graduate households since 2013.

Wealth increased for Americans across age groups over this period due to several factors. Many were able to save money during the pandemic lockdowns. In addition, home values increased, and the stock market surged.

  • Most of the analysis in this chapter is based on the Annual Social and Economic Supplement collected by the U.S. Census Bureau. Information on net worth is based on a Federal Reserve survey, which interviews fewer households. Due to this smaller sample size, the net worth of households headed by a young adult cannot be broken out by gender and education. ↩
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics data indicates that the labor force participation rate for men ages 25 to 54 has been declining since 1953. ↩
  • This analysis looks at the earnings of employed adults working full time, full year. This measure of earnings is not uncommon. For example, the National Center for Education Statistics publishes a series on the annual earnings of 25- to 34-year-olds working full time, full year. ↩
  • Other studies using hourly wages rather than annual earnings find that the college wage premium has narrowed. For example, researchers at the San Francisco Federal Reserve report that the college wage gap peaked in the mid-2010s but declined by just 4 percentage points to about 75% in 2022. ↩

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Education Policy

Community college bachelor’s degrees in florida, an update on enrollment and labor market outcomes.

Community college students walking and talking


Tiffany thai, may 21, 2024, introduction.

In the late 1990s, Florida faced a significant challenge, ranking among the lowest states in producing baccalaureate degrees per capita . The traditional bachelor’s pathways provided by the state’s universities were insufficient in addressing mounting education and workforce needs. In response, Florida’s educational leaders and legislators sought innovative solutions to boost bachelor’s degree attainment rates, and in 2001, the state authorized its community colleges to confer bachelor’s degrees.

The primary objective of the Florida College System was twofold: first, to tackle the shortage of qualified professionals in critical fields like teaching and nursing; and second, to improve access to further education for nontraditional students. Community colleges tend to enroll a diverse student body , and expanding four-year degree programs to these institutions could be key in bridging gaps in education opportunities that often exist within public and private four-year institutions.

Florida’s community college bachelors (CCB) programs fulfilled a vital role by providing students with affordable and localized pathways to higher education, while also meeting the demands of industries requiring a highly skilled workforce. Community colleges opting to introduce baccalaureate programs undertook the responsibility of demonstrating a substantial “ workforce demand and unmet need ” for graduates of their proposed programs. This requirement ensured that each program was tied to the economic imperatives of the state and its local communities—a crucial consideration, given more severe labor shortages faced by the state.

Today, all 28 of Florida’s public community colleges offer at least one baccalaureate program, spanning disciplines from applied health sciences to digital media and elementary education. In our sample spanning 10 years of data, the system had awarded over 75,000 bachelor’s degrees.

As Florida approaches its third decade of CCB authorization, understanding the state’s CCB context can offer valuable insights as more states and institutions contemplate CCB adoption. This brief follows a 2020 report on Florida CCBs and aims to provide an updated look at enrollment and graduation trends within the state’s CCB programs. We examine demographic characteristics including race/ethnicity, age, and gender across program areas, culminating in an analysis of labor market outcomes.

Key Findings

  • CCB students are considerably older than their university counterparts, since more than half of CCB graduates are over the age of 30. However, there are more younger students pursuing and earning their bachelor’s degree than before.
  • Business is the most popular CCB program, enrolling over half of all CCB students. While few new nursing and computer science programs have emerged in recent years, there is a substantial trend of increasing enrollment and graduation rates in these fields.
  • Students of color represent a growing share of CCB graduates, but more enrollment is needed to ensure that students in these programs more closely reflect Florida’s population. In particular, Latinx graduates remain underrepresented in CCB programs.
  • Median wages three years after graduation are $51,520, with considerable variation by demographic group and area of study. CCB graduates are more likely to enter higher-paying sectors than bachelor’s degree holders from State University System of Florida (SUS) institutions. However, when comparing wages within similar areas of study, SUS graduates typically earn more, except in nursing.

Research Questions, Data, and Methods

CCBs are designed to serve as an educational access point for students, offering affordability while connecting them to in-demand careers. Given Florida’s long-standing CCB policy—one of the most expansive and oldest in the country—understanding some of the features of these programs can provide valuable insights into where the state is creating new pathways through these programs and where there is room for growth and improvement. Several questions guided this analysis:

  • What are the demographics of Florida CCB students? In what areas of study are students enrolled?
  • What are the demographic characteristics of Florida CCB graduates? In what areas of study do we find graduates?
  • What are the employment and wage outcomes of Florida CCB graduates, and how do wages vary by demographic group?

To address these questions, we used aggregate data on CCB students and graduates from academic years 2011–2012 to 2021–2022 from the Florida Department of Education in response to our data request. These data include age group, gender, and race/ethnicity by area of study and year for enrolled students and these same demographic characteristics, as well as employment status and median wages by area of study and year, for CCB graduates. We used these data for a descriptive analysis. To contextualize Florida’s history of CCB policy and program development, we consulted the publicly available current list of available bachelor’s programs in the Florida College System. In the sections below, we offer a look at the landscape of bachelor’s programs at Florida community colleges and the students and graduates who have taken this route to pursue a bachelor’s degree in the Sunshine State.

CCB Policies and Programs in Florida

In 2001, Florida became one of the first states to embrace CCBs when St. Petersburg College began offering bachelor’s degrees in nursing, education, and information sciences. Chipola College and Miami-Dade College followed suit, introducing their own education programs the following year. Because of the critical teaching shortage in Florida at the time, Figure 1 illustrates the concentration of the earliest CCB programs in education.

The next major shift in CCB policy came in 2008, when state legislation transformed the Florida Community College System into the Florida College System (FCS). This move aimed to maximize open access to associate and baccalaureate degrees because CCBs were lower cost than providing the degree at a State University System of Florida (SUS) institution. It also laid out a program approval process for new bachelor’s degree programs; while CCB programs must still meet the employment needs of Florida, they were no longer limited to proposals designed to meet regional workforce needs. This shift resulted in many new program offerings, ranging from environmental science to paralegal studies. In the first decade of Florida CCBs, 21 out of 28 FCS institutions offered a bachelor’s program.

However, the rapid CCB expansion has not been without challenges. CCBs have not avoided criticism of mission creep and program duplication with the state’s four-year colleges and universities. Legislation in 2012 narrowed the scope of FCS baccalaureate authority, leading to a slowdown in the creation of new programs, and in 2014 , a 14-month moratorium temporarily halted the submission and approval of new proposals. Despite these obstacles, FCS institutions continue to provide many baccalaureate options for its students. Today, all 28 of Florida’s public community colleges offer at least one bachelor’s program.

Examining CCB Enrollment

With 192 programs , Florida provides nearly 40,000 CCB students with the opportunity to study a range of disciplines. Figure 2 depicts the largest CCB programs by enrollment. Over 90 percent of all CCB students are enrolled in five program areas: business, nursing, computer science, education, and health professions. The most common program among Florida CCBs is business, with 25 out of 28 campuses offering a business degree. Almost half of all students (18,292) are enrolled in a business program. Nursing is the second largest program (5,733), closely followed by computer and information sciences (4,462). Although education enrolls fewer than 3,000 students, there has been a jump in the number of approved education programs in 2021, and it remains to be seen how enrollment is affected as these programs become more established.

Among CCB students, the share of white individuals, at 47 percent, is lower compared to the 52 percent observed in the overall Florida population . However, other racial and ethnic groups closely mirror the state demographics. Our data reported that 26 percent of students were Latinx and 18 percent were Black, which is within one percentage point of the state population. According to Figure 3, students of color constitute the majority in enrollment across the most popular programs, except in education, where 54 percent of students are white. This finding accords with an ongoing racial gap in the teaching profession, where 82 percent of education majors are white . Florida CCBs can play a crucial role in expanding education access points for underrepresented students in vital fields.

Across all areas of study, women make up 65 percent of CCB enrollment in Florida, surpassing the national average of 60 percent female enrollment for community colleges. As displayed in Figure 4, women are more likely to enroll in certain CCB programs than men, and this trend is pronounced in fields such as nursing, education, and health professions, which are historically female-dominated. In our previous Florida report, education produced so few male graduates that we were unable to conduct a gender analysis. However, male enrollment has since increased, although women still make up a staggering 90 percent of education enrollees. Conversely, there is a higher representation of male students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, with men constituting 74 percent of the student body in computer science and 81 percent in engineering and engineering technologies.

Community colleges tend to attract older learners , and CCB enrollment closely aligns with this trend, with three-fourths of the students in our sample aged 25 or older. Figure 5 breaks down enrollment by age group, which varies significantly across areas of study. Students enrolled in nursing, health professions, and social services tend to be older than their peers in other subjects. For instance, 62 percent of nursing students are over the age of 30, whereas 57 percent of education students are under the age of 30.

In 2020, the slight majority of prelicensure nursing program graduates nationally earned a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree ( 51 percent ). However, the associate degree was still the primary path into the profession for new Indigenous (62 percent), Black (59 percent), and Latinx (56 percent) nurses. Many employers continue to prefer nurses with baccalaureate-level preparation, and a bachelor’s degree may be needed for promotion or pay increases. Therefore, accessible RN-BSN programs are essential for nurses in these underrepresented groups to advance their careers. Similarly to nursing, evolving licensing requirements in social services may explain the older age of students. Unlike other states, Florida does not license social workers at the bachelor’s level , and students may choose to pursue their bachelor’s degree at a lower-cost community college to economize on their path to licensure.

Examining CCB Graduates

In 2021–2022, Florida College System (FCS) institutions enrolled 45,624 students and awarded 10,620 bachelor’s degrees . The number of students graduating with a baccalaureate degree from Florida’s community colleges has steadily increased each year, nearly tripling in a decade. Business produces the most bachelor’s degrees, shown in Figure 6, with over 4,700 students completing their program in 2021, although the share of business graduates (43 percent) has remained stable within one percentage point across all the years of data we examined.

Nursing produces one-fifth of all graduates and represents the second-largest number of graduates, reflecting Florida’s strong demand for nurses with baccalaureate-level preparation. At the same time, technology-related fields are also growing, with computer science graduates multiplying tenfold in less than a decade. There has been a decline in the number of education graduates in recent years, despite the expansion of education programs in recent years. While the latest data cover a large jump in CCB graduates across all programs, it occurred during the pandemic’s peak, and additional research is needed to see whether these enrollment trends persist.

Figure 7 shows a growing number of students of color graduating from CCB programs. Bachelor’s programs at Florida community colleges graduate a racially and ethnically diverse group of students. In the 2020–2021 academic year, less than half (49 percent) of bachelor’s graduates in our sample were white, compared to 57 percent of bachelor’s graduates nationally.

As we found in our 2020 brief , Latinx graduates continue to be underrepresented in CCB programs, making up 24 percent of graduates but 27 percent of Florida’s population . However, Figure 7 shows this difference has narrowed in recent years, coinciding with a nationwide increase in Latinx enrollment since the height of the pandemic. The share of Black (17 percent) and Asian or Pacific Islander (3 percent) CCB graduates has remained relatively stable, reflecting the state’s population. It is also worth noting that CCB programs graduate a smaller share of Latinx graduates but a larger share of Black graduates relative to baccalaureate graduates in the State University System (31 percent and 11 percent, respectively).

As Figure 8 shows, CCB programs tend to serve an older population of students. From 2020–2021, a majority of graduates (58 percent) were over the age of 30. However, there has been a consistent decline in this demographic’s share of graduates each year.

In fact, more younger students are graduating from CCB programs . This shift became evident from 2018–2019 onward, when we observed a steady increase in the number of graduates under 25 years old. While the primary mission of FCS institutions has traditionally been to provide associate degrees as a pathway to university education, it appears that young students are increasingly viewing CCB programs as a viable option for obtaining their bachelor’s degree.

Figure 9 illustrates the fluctuation in the share of male graduates over the last decade. The peak of male graduates occurred in 2016–2017, reaching 34 percent. While this percentage has decreased in subsequent years, it still surpasses the figures observed in the earliest years of data. Overall, bachelor’s degree holders across FCS and SUS institutions are more likely to be female, however, FCS baccalaureate graduates, at 67 percent, have an even higher proportion of female students compared to SUS graduates, at 59 percent .

CCB Graduate Outcomes

In our sample, 78 percent of graduates were found to be employed one year after graduation, a decrease from the 83 percent we observed in previous years. Despite this dip, the rate surpasses the employment outcomes typically reported for associate degree holders in Florida, which stands at approximately 70 percent , though employment data does not include self-employed individuals, federal employees, individuals residing near state borders working outside Florida, and those who relocated from Florida after graduation.

When breaking down employment or further education rates by area of study and race, we found differences that were less stark than those observed in our last analyses. In Figure 10, variations remained within a few percentage points. The largest outcome gap was in law enforcement, where Latinx graduates fared worse than their Black and white peers. Meanwhile, Latinx graduates in business, computer science, and public administration outperformed their peers. Nursing and education programs demonstrated the most successful employment or further education rates. This trend aligns with Florida’s increased credential expectations in early childhood education and nursing. It could be that these are incumbent employees wanting to maintain their positions or advance their careers.

Among all bachelor’s degree holders, FCS graduates outperformed their counterparts from SUS institutions. The median wages one year after graduation are $51,520 for FCS graduates and $46,500 for SUS graduates. Limitations in SUS data prevent wage comparisons beyond the first year, but breaking down earnings by sector helps put these numbers into context. Florida legislation mandates that CCB programs address critical workforce needs, with most programs concentrating on high-demand careers such as nursing or computer science. This requirement does not apply to SUS institutions, where programs span a wide array of disciplines. As a result, CCB graduates are more likely to enter career pathways that typically offer higher salaries.

When comparing the annual median salaries of FCS and SUS bachelor’s graduates in the same fields, we found that most SUS graduates initially outearn FCS graduates. Nursing, however, stands out as an exception, as depicted in Figure 11. A possible explanation is that all BSN programs in the FCS are RN-BSN programs and only available to already licensed nurses. In this context, FCS nursing students are often older and typically have more prior professional experience compared to their counterparts in SUS institutions.

Figure 12 presents the median wages three years postbaccalaureate for the most recent data available. Analyzing data at the three-year mark provides more time for CCB graduates to secure employment, gain experience, and advance in their careers. The median wage for 2019 CCB graduates after three years stands at $58,008. Again, nursing graduates earned more than their peers with a median wage of $82,148. For context, the median wage for registered nurses in Florida was $81,220 in 2022.

We also discovered substantial wage disparities across demographic groups, shown in Figure 13. When considering race/ethnicity, it is evident that Latinx graduates achieved the highest median wage, at $59,864, closely followed by white graduates, at $58,880. Black graduates earned the lowest median wage, at $52,500. The high concentration of Latinx students in urban counties such as Miami-Dade and Broward likely contributes to the higher median wages for Latinx CCB grads. However, these areas also come with higher living expenses, so it is difficult to know the implications of these findings for individuals from different racial/ethnic backgrounds in their ability to attain a family-sustaining wage.

Figure 13 also highlights large wage differences across age groups. Graduates aged 40 and older had by far the highest median wage, at $67,084. This figure is striking, given that the median household income for the state is just under $68,000 . Conversely, younger graduates aged 20–24 and 25–29 earned lower median wages, at $49,960 and $48,728, respectively. These figures place younger graduates only just above the living wage for Floridians with no dependents, which is estimated at $46,645 before taxes.

Figure 14 shows a persistent gender wage gap among CCB graduates in Florida, with male graduates earning higher median wages than their female counterparts, although this difference is not as substantial as age and racial gaps. Black women face the lowest wage outcomes, with an $8,000 difference between them and female Latinx graduates, and a $12,000 difference separating them from Latinx men.

Figure 15 reveals that Latinx graduates generally earn higher wages than their Black and white peers across most sectors, marking a shift from our findings in 2020. However, there is an exception in public administration and law enforcement, where Latinx graduates earn less. Conversely, Black graduates tend to earn lower wages across most fields, except for nursing, where they outearn their white counterparts, and social services, where they surpass Latinx graduates. Further research is needed to examine the differential earnings across areas of study and racial groups.

With 24 states currently authorizing CCB programs , Florida stands out not only for its extensive history in CCB programs but also for the sheer number of CCB programs it offers. In 2021, Florida CCBs conferred nearly 11,000 bachelor’s degrees, something that was nearly unheard of when Florida first authorized a few colleges to offer these degrees in the early 2000s. In the third decade of CCB programs, Florida’s 28 colleges can continue providing affordable, local access to bachelor’s degrees, opening up new economic opportunities for graduates. The welcome that community colleges have always extended to students who are working, older, and racially and ethnically diverse positions them well to increase bachelor’s degree attainment for these frequently underserved demographic groups and support their progress toward further education. While there is plenty of room to grow, for now, the future of CCBs looks bright in the Sunshine State.


We are grateful to many colleagues who made this work possible. We thank our New America colleagues Iris Palmer, Sabrina Detlef, Katie Portnoy, Natalya Brill, Mandy Dean, Zoe Reier, and Naomi Morduch Toubman for their support throughout the writing and publication process. We are honored and grateful to have the financial support of the Ascendium Education Group to carry out this work, and we are especially thankful to our program officer, Sue Cui. We thank the Florida Department of Education, especially Jeremy Katz, for handling our data request so thoughtfully.

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Why writing by hand beats typing for thinking and learning

Jonathan Lambert

A close-up of a woman's hand writing in a notebook.

If you're like many digitally savvy Americans, it has likely been a while since you've spent much time writing by hand.

The laborious process of tracing out our thoughts, letter by letter, on the page is becoming a relic of the past in our screen-dominated world, where text messages and thumb-typed grocery lists have replaced handwritten letters and sticky notes. Electronic keyboards offer obvious efficiency benefits that have undoubtedly boosted our productivity — imagine having to write all your emails longhand.

To keep up, many schools are introducing computers as early as preschool, meaning some kids may learn the basics of typing before writing by hand.

But giving up this slower, more tactile way of expressing ourselves may come at a significant cost, according to a growing body of research that's uncovering the surprising cognitive benefits of taking pen to paper, or even stylus to iPad — for both children and adults.

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In kids, studies show that tracing out ABCs, as opposed to typing them, leads to better and longer-lasting recognition and understanding of letters. Writing by hand also improves memory and recall of words, laying down the foundations of literacy and learning. In adults, taking notes by hand during a lecture, instead of typing, can lead to better conceptual understanding of material.

"There's actually some very important things going on during the embodied experience of writing by hand," says Ramesh Balasubramaniam , a neuroscientist at the University of California, Merced. "It has important cognitive benefits."

While those benefits have long been recognized by some (for instance, many authors, including Jennifer Egan and Neil Gaiman , draft their stories by hand to stoke creativity), scientists have only recently started investigating why writing by hand has these effects.

A slew of recent brain imaging research suggests handwriting's power stems from the relative complexity of the process and how it forces different brain systems to work together to reproduce the shapes of letters in our heads onto the page.

Your brain on handwriting

Both handwriting and typing involve moving our hands and fingers to create words on a page. But handwriting, it turns out, requires a lot more fine-tuned coordination between the motor and visual systems. This seems to more deeply engage the brain in ways that support learning.

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"Handwriting is probably among the most complex motor skills that the brain is capable of," says Marieke Longcamp , a cognitive neuroscientist at Aix-Marseille Université.

Gripping a pen nimbly enough to write is a complicated task, as it requires your brain to continuously monitor the pressure that each finger exerts on the pen. Then, your motor system has to delicately modify that pressure to re-create each letter of the words in your head on the page.

"Your fingers have to each do something different to produce a recognizable letter," says Sophia Vinci-Booher , an educational neuroscientist at Vanderbilt University. Adding to the complexity, your visual system must continuously process that letter as it's formed. With each stroke, your brain compares the unfolding script with mental models of the letters and words, making adjustments to fingers in real time to create the letters' shapes, says Vinci-Booher.

That's not true for typing.

To type "tap" your fingers don't have to trace out the form of the letters — they just make three relatively simple and uniform movements. In comparison, it takes a lot more brainpower, as well as cross-talk between brain areas, to write than type.

Recent brain imaging studies bolster this idea. A study published in January found that when students write by hand, brain areas involved in motor and visual information processing " sync up " with areas crucial to memory formation, firing at frequencies associated with learning.

"We don't see that [synchronized activity] in typewriting at all," says Audrey van der Meer , a psychologist and study co-author at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. She suggests that writing by hand is a neurobiologically richer process and that this richness may confer some cognitive benefits.

Other experts agree. "There seems to be something fundamental about engaging your body to produce these shapes," says Robert Wiley , a cognitive psychologist at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. "It lets you make associations between your body and what you're seeing and hearing," he says, which might give the mind more footholds for accessing a given concept or idea.

Those extra footholds are especially important for learning in kids, but they may give adults a leg up too. Wiley and others worry that ditching handwriting for typing could have serious consequences for how we all learn and think.

What might be lost as handwriting wanes

The clearest consequence of screens and keyboards replacing pen and paper might be on kids' ability to learn the building blocks of literacy — letters.

"Letter recognition in early childhood is actually one of the best predictors of later reading and math attainment," says Vinci-Booher. Her work suggests the process of learning to write letters by hand is crucial for learning to read them.

"When kids write letters, they're just messy," she says. As kids practice writing "A," each iteration is different, and that variability helps solidify their conceptual understanding of the letter.

Research suggests kids learn to recognize letters better when seeing variable handwritten examples, compared with uniform typed examples.

This helps develop areas of the brain used during reading in older children and adults, Vinci-Booher found.

"This could be one of the ways that early experiences actually translate to long-term life outcomes," she says. "These visually demanding, fine motor actions bake in neural communication patterns that are really important for learning later on."

Ditching handwriting instruction could mean that those skills don't get developed as well, which could impair kids' ability to learn down the road.

"If young children are not receiving any handwriting training, which is very good brain stimulation, then their brains simply won't reach their full potential," says van der Meer. "It's scary to think of the potential consequences."

Many states are trying to avoid these risks by mandating cursive instruction. This year, California started requiring elementary school students to learn cursive , and similar bills are moving through state legislatures in several states, including Indiana, Kentucky, South Carolina and Wisconsin. (So far, evidence suggests that it's the writing by hand that matters, not whether it's print or cursive.)

Slowing down and processing information

For adults, one of the main benefits of writing by hand is that it simply forces us to slow down.

During a meeting or lecture, it's possible to type what you're hearing verbatim. But often, "you're not actually processing that information — you're just typing in the blind," says van der Meer. "If you take notes by hand, you can't write everything down," she says.

The relative slowness of the medium forces you to process the information, writing key words or phrases and using drawing or arrows to work through ideas, she says. "You make the information your own," she says, which helps it stick in the brain.

Such connections and integration are still possible when typing, but they need to be made more intentionally. And sometimes, efficiency wins out. "When you're writing a long essay, it's obviously much more practical to use a keyboard," says van der Meer.

Still, given our long history of using our hands to mark meaning in the world, some scientists worry about the more diffuse consequences of offloading our thinking to computers.

"We're foisting a lot of our knowledge, extending our cognition, to other devices, so it's only natural that we've started using these other agents to do our writing for us," says Balasubramaniam.

It's possible that this might free up our minds to do other kinds of hard thinking, he says. Or we might be sacrificing a fundamental process that's crucial for the kinds of immersive cognitive experiences that enable us to learn and think at our full potential.

Balasubramaniam stresses, however, that we don't have to ditch digital tools to harness the power of handwriting. So far, research suggests that scribbling with a stylus on a screen activates the same brain pathways as etching ink on paper. It's the movement that counts, he says, not its final form.

Jonathan Lambert is a Washington, D.C.-based freelance journalist who covers science, health and policy.

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