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Biden-Harris Administration Outlines Strategies to Increase Diversity and Opportunity in Higher Education

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As part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s ongoing commitment to advance diversity and opportunity in higher education, the U.S. Department of Education today released a report, “Strategies for Increasing Diversity and Opportunity in Higher Education,” that calls on states and higher education leaders to prioritize efforts that advance diversity on college campuses. The report outlines evidence-based strategies and practices in the areas of outreach, admissions, financial aid, and college completion. And it answers President Biden’s charge to the Department to elevate promising practices to build inclusive, diverse student bodies in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. President and Fellows of Harvard College and Students for Fair Admissions, Inc. v. University of North Carolina et al. (collectively “SFFA”).

“One of the cruelest ironies in America’s current higher education system is that our most inclusive and accessible institutions have lacked adequate resources to invest in student success, while highly selective institutions with vast resources to invest in students and propel them to graduation day admit overwhelmingly affluent applicants with a myriad of advantages,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “This report reflects President Biden and Vice President Harris’ unyielding commitment to equal opportunity and provides colleges and universities with a roadmap for advancing student body diversity. This moment demands leadership, innovation, and collaboration from leaders at every level to break down barriers for underserved students and reimagine pathways into higher education. Our future is brighter when we prepare students of all backgrounds to lead our multiracial democracy together.”

The Administration encourages institutions of higher education and state leaders to use this resource to consider the ways in which they can expand access to educational opportunity for all. The report provides evidence for steps leaders can take to enhance socioeconomic and racial diversity in colleges, including:

  • Investing in targeted recruitment, outreach, and pathway programs, including with K–12 schools, community colleges, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and Minority-Serving Institutions, including Hispanic Serving Institutions;
  • Giving meaningful consideration in admissions to the adversity students have faced, including a students’ financial means, where a student grew up or attended high school, and personal experiences of hardship and discrimination, including racial discrimination, and ending practices that hinder socioeconomic and racial diversity;
  • Increasing affordability, including through need-based aid, and ensuring transparency and simplicity in student aid application processes; and
  • Cultivating welcoming and supportive environments for students and providing comprehensive support programs that increase retention and completion rates.

This new report is one of several swift actions taken by the Biden-Harris Administration to respond to the Court’s decision in SFFA. Following the Court’s decision President Biden and Vice President Harris called on colleges, universities, and other stakeholders to seize the opportunity to expand access to educational opportunity for all students, and to build diverse student bodies, including by recognizing and valuing students who have overcome adversity. The Administration remains committed to advancing access to education for all Americans and to promoting diversity in higher education consistent with the law. The Administration has taken steps to support our Nation’s colleges and universities so they can continue building pathways to upward mobility and preparing students from all backgrounds to thrive in our workforce.

“Our country’s greatest strength is the diversity of our people,” said Under Secretary James Kvaal. “That’s why we’re calling upon state, college, and university leaders to renew their commitments to opportunity for all students. Moving forward, we will work with institutions and leaders across the country to ensure we can continue to make progress in closing equity gaps in higher education so that all students can reap the benefits of college degrees and credentials.”

Diverse college campuses can provide experiences that increase critical thinking, civic engagement, leadership skills, and cross-racial interaction for all students, and they allow students from all backgrounds the chance to pursue and achieve the benefits of postsecondary education, such as economic and social mobility. Having a college experience that is enhanced by a diverse learning environment ensures that students are able to thrive and compete in today’s global economy.

Further, higher education continues to be one of the strongest paths for people to secure economic mobility. Yet, persistent socioeconomic and racial gaps remain in higher education access. Students of color and lower income students are less likely to apply, be admitted, and complete their programs. This is particularly true at highly-selective institutions, which have vast resources and provide their students with substantial advantages and can propel them to a promising future.

In producing this report, the Department considered peer-reviewed research on efforts undertaken by institutions, states, and non-profit organizations, as well as examples of promising efforts underway at institutions. Higher education leaders can use this evidence as they review their admissions policies and consider other strategies to ensure their campuses are diverse and welcoming to all students.

Following the SFFA decision, the Department and the U.S. Department of Justice issued a Dear Colleague Letter and a Questions and Answers resource that distills the Court’s core holding and offers examples of steps colleges and universities can lawfully take to achieve a student body that is diverse across a range of factors, including race and ethnicity.

As part of these continued efforts, the Department will consider ways to collect and publish additional information on college applications and enrollment trends, including how these data can be disaggregated by race and ethnicity, first-generation status, legacy status, and other important measures. The Department will also begin to assist states, territories, and Tribal Nations with using their data to improve college recruitment, admissions, and financial aid practices. This work builds upon the historic efforts of the Biden-Harris Administration to ensure all students have the opportunity to access higher education, including securing a historic increase in the Pell Grant, fixing the broken student loan system, and supporting HBCUs, MSIs, and community colleges.

More information on the work the Biden-Harris Administration is doing to continue building success for all students to thrive can be found here.

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