As Education Commission of the States set out to catalog and analyze the various postsecondary funding models in place across the country, we specifically sought out information about how adopted policies address students of color. We wanted to know if state funding policies address enrollment, completion or job placement of students of color, and how requirements are operationalized and defined? Furthermore, what opportunities remain to elevate the needs of students of color through funding policy?
While we found over 100 different funding models in place that addressed entire systems, sectors or, in some cases, individual institutions, none of them used the language “students of color.” Fifteen models mentioned enrollment for groups — e.g., underrepresented students and minority students — or included a race metric. Only a few mentioned specific racial or ethnic groups in policy.
Colorado obligates its department of higher education, by statute, to address completion among students of color within its funding model. In public four-year institutions in Kentucky, 35% of resources are distributed based on enrollment and completion metrics, including bachelor’s degrees earned by low-income and minority students. Nevada’s policy formula provides additional funding for minority students by weighting minority students more heavily in the funding calculations.
Groups (Ed Trust, HCM Strategists, Center for Urban Education) have been calling for more attention on equity in postsecondary education funding. To the extent that state funding policy can signal priorities, elevating the equity imperative in attainment agendas is key. A page from the K-12 funding playbook may prove instructive, as it employs targeted funding for English language learners and other subpopulations of students as the norm, not the exception.
While a small number of states have begun to address racial equity within their postsecondary funding formulas, these requirements often use deficit-based language that positions students of color as a small demographic that is inherently and perpetually underrepresented in postsecondary education. Leaders may want to pause at this reality and consider the nation’s changing demographics, as well as the many HSI- and HBCU-designated campuses that these formulas are intended to serve.
What’s more, reticence to specify the racial and ethnic groups targeted in funding policy can lead to undue ambiguity and stall efforts to measure progress. To more intentionally measure the impact of policies that support underrepresented or minority students, policymakers may consider adopting clear definitions for those terms.
While many levers exist to promote racial equity in postsecondary education, funding policy is an articulation of priorities and, when effective incentives are in place, may spur the development of intentional and equitable opportunities and outcomes for students of color across the country.