Harvard Educational Review
  1. Winter 2007 Issue »

    Symposium

    Equity and Access in Higher Education

    The Editors
    For the last century, a college education has been considered the primary engine of social mobility in the United States. Research in the field of higher education has identified many positive economic and noneconomic returns to college participation, but has also revealed racial, ethnic, and class disparities in higher education access, persistence, and achievement. Indeed, at the start of the new millennium, large increases in college tuition, decreased federal and state funding for college students, and growing economic and social disparities in U.S. society appear to be further limiting college access and success for the economically and socially disadvantaged. In light of these concerns, the Editors of the Harvard Educational Review present this Symposium on Equity and Access in Higher Education to call attention to the need for ongoing and creative efforts to provide equal college opportunities to all members of society, and to ensure that higher education institutions fulfill their common mission of serving the needs of students, communities, and society.

    In this Symposium, four authors working at the forefront of higher education research and leadership explore institutional policies that are designed to reduce barriers to college access and increase persistence for disadvantaged students, including those from low-income backgrounds and underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. In the first essay, Alicia C. Dowd examines the increasingly important and complex role of community colleges in providing postsecondary educational opportunity to traditionally underrepresented students. She discusses the dual role of community colleges as gateways and gatekeepers to higher education, and the need for policies that promote both equitable access and equitable outcomes for students. Dowd describes her work with the University of Southern California’s Center for Urban Education, which strives to help community colleges respond to accountability and assessment demands in ways that reduce racial and social inequalities in persistence and achievement.

    Next, Rebecca Zwick considers the degree to which standardized tests such as the SAT and the ACT restrict access to college for underrepresented groups. She examines the limited potential of two alternative admissions policies — class rank admissions systems and admissions lotteries — to improve equity at the college gate, and stresses the importance of using race-conscious admissions policies as a means of expanding access for students of color. She discusses the successes at several small liberal arts colleges that have improved racial and socioeconomic diversity on campus by deemphasizing admissions tests in favor of a process of close review and interviews of applicants, but highlights the difficulties associated with replicating these policies at large institutions.

    In the third essay, Brian J. Shanley documents the efforts of one selective liberal arts institution to implement the kind of test-free policy Zwick presents. Shanley describes how a test-optional admissions strategy allowed Providence College to honor its mission of providing access to economically disadvantaged urban students and first-generation college-goers. Shanley outlines the college’s alternative methods of assessing academic preparation and academic fit with the institution, as well as concurrent changes to the institution’s financial aid policy (a shift from merit- to need-based aid), which allowed the institution to pursue its revitalized mission and support students’ postsecondary academic success.

    In the final essay, Shirley M. Tilghman explores how a highly selective institution has eradicated one of the most prevalent barriers to college access: cost. Tilghman discusses Princeton University’s no-loan financial aid policy, which meets students’ financial aid needs with grants instead of loans. The policy, which frees low-income college students from the burden of long-term debt, provides an example of how prosperous institutions can make strides to improve equity and diversity on U.S. campuses.

    The institutional efforts described in these essays provide examples of the various approaches U.S. colleges and universities can implement to help reduce socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic inequities in postsecondary educational opportunity. They also remind us of the need for institutions to adopt equity policies that respond to their particular contexts and goals, and to incorporate these efforts into their broader social missions in order to ensure the success of policies that extend the prospect of college access and achievement to all students.
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    Winter 2007 Issue

    Abstracts

    Symposium
    Equity and Access in Higher Education
    The Editors
    Community Colleges as Gateways and Gatekeepers
    Moving beyond the Access “Saga” toward Outcome Equity
    Alicia C. Dowd
    College Admissions in Twenty-First-Century America
    The Role of Grades, Tests, and Games of Chance
    Rebecca Zwick
    Test-Optional Admission at a Liberal Arts College
    A Founding Mission Affirmed
    Brian J. Shanley
    Expanding Equal Opportunity
    The Princeton Experience with Financial Aid
    Shirley M. Tilghman
    Is Teaching for Social Justice Undemocratic?
    Eric B. Freedman
    From Visibility to Autonomy
    Latinos and Higher Education in the U.S., 1965–2005
    Victoria-María MacDonald, John M. Botti, and Lisa Hoffman Clark

    Book Notes

    The Knowledge Deficit
    By E.D. Hirsch Jr.

    Case Studies of Minority Student Placement in Special Education
    By Beth Harry, Janette K. Klingner, Elizabeth P. Cramer, with Keith M. Sturges and Robert F. Moore.

    Qualities of Effective Teachers, Second Edition
    By James H. Stronge