Michael Gargano

The recent announcement from the U.S. Supreme Court eliminating the application of race from college admission decisions has nearly everyone thrashing about to find alternative proxies to achieve campus race/ethnicity diversity goals.

To plan and achieve better race/ethnicity campus diversity the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) provides reasonable data to lead this discussion. Understanding the critical K-12 pipeline for underrepresented minority students is key to enhancing college campus diversity efforts.

United States Projected High School Graduates

Grant Total
Public & Private 
HispanicWhiteBlackAsianTwo or More Races

Please note the above represents high school graduation projection before the pandemic but does represent the students already in the secondary school pipeline.

At first blush the numbers bode well to improve campus diversity. However, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reporting indicates only 63% of high school graduates immediately enroll in college that fall.  NCES further explains 43% project to attend a 4-year university and 20% projected to attend a 2-year college.

Applying the NCES data point of 63% immediate college-going rate to each race/ethnicity category educators begin to see the pool of potential applicants decline. The pool of candidates further declines when applying only 43% project to attend a 4-year university.

A smaller pool of applicants combined with higher education’s very high demand for student diversity results in a fiercely competitive student recruitment environment. There are more than 2,800 public and private 4-year colleges and universities in the US higher education system all competing for a diverse student population. Potentially leading to more underrepresented minority students being actively recruited at an earlier period in high school, receiving invitations to institutions’ summer camps and pre-college programs, and where appropriate offers of early admission and institutional financial aid grant awards reducing the cost of attendance.

Let’s not run from the obvious. If the goal is to increase college and university race/ethnicity diversity, then by association, educators must increase the Black and Hispanic student K-12 to college pipeline. Specifically, academically preparing more underrepresented minority students for college admission to a 4-year university.   

The United States operates a decentralized model for elementary and secondary education, ceding all management, authority, funding, and policy to states and local school boards. This results in approximately 14,000 school districts setting their own standards ranging from curriculum depth to criteria for grade promotion and learning proficiency and high school graduation requirements.

Local school boards have failed Black and Hispanic students and schools they serve, mostly by lowering academic standards, eliminating grading and testing, and knowingly promoting students to the next grade without core subject proficiency. School boards falsely believe their students are not capable of achieving at a higher level.

At a minimum, if the goal is to have more underrepresented minority students enrolled at a 4-year university, then local school boards and state education policy, must ensure middle and high school curriculum and high school graduation requirements are aligned with in-state public university admission criteria.

Frankly, to improve the 4-year college-going rates for Black and Hispanic students we need better K-12 schools, especially urban schools that instruct most Black and Hispanic students. The schools need better teachers with experience and credentials to instruct the subject matter, better principals and superintendents, better curriculum with depth, better standards and accountability, a full compliment of advanced math and science courses, access to Advanced Placement courses, college-sponsored dual enrollment courses, mandatory summer school for students not at grade level, fully equipped science labs, art and music options, advanced technology, health and mental health services, responsible accounting funding sources, plus much more.

Admittedly it is not easy, but not impossible either.

If the US goal is more Black and Hispanic doctors, physicians, and nurses, more minority teachers, more Black and Hispanic scientists and engineers, more minority C-suite, more under-represented minority students enrolled at 4-year universities, then educators and state education policy must fix the failed K-12 pipeline.