Indicators of Higher Education Equity in the United States

Posted by Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education on June 10, 2019

The Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education (Pell Institute) at the Council for Opportunity in Education (COE) and the Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy at the University of Pennsylvania (PennAHEAD) are pleased to announce the publication of the Indicators of Higher Education Equity in the United States — 2019 Historical Trend Report. We are also pleased to welcome you to the Equity Indicators Website. The Indicators Reports and this website are dedicated to the shared missions of the Pell Institute and PennAHEAD to foster a U.S. higher education system in which all citizens, regardless of family backgrounds, have the opportunity to develop their talents and capacity to fully participate in a democratic society.

This Equity Indicators Website provides access to data files used to produce each of the figures included in the 2019, 2018 and 2017 Indicators Reports. The website also provides links to the full 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019 reports and access to the Shared Solutions Essays that accompany the 2015, 2016, and 2017 Reports. The website allows policymakers, educators, and the public to explore data on equality and opportunity in U.S. higher education. It is our hope that the website will also provide a forum for dialogue and co-learning of the ways in which we can together foster greater inclusiveness and equity of educational opportunity within higher education the United States.

This 2019 Indicators Report and the earlier reports compile historical statistical data from the nationally representative government statistics including the Census Bureau household studies and the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)-sponsored high school and college longitudinal studies which track college entrance and completion by family income, socioeconomic status, and race/ethnicity. The 2018 and 2019 Indicator reports also include data on state variation in related statistics.

A Special Focus on Understanding Equity. Each edition of the Indicators Reports has included a quote from the foreword to President Truman’s 1947 Commission on Higher Education that called attention to the dangers of a higher education system that functioned not to provide opportunity but to sort students: “If the ladder of educational opportunity rises high at the doors of some youth and scarcely rises at the doors of others, while at the same time formal education is made a prerequisite to occupational and social advance, then education may become the means, not of eliminating race and class distinctions, but of deepening and solidifying them.” The Indicators Reports are dedicated to increasing our understanding of how to address the equity issues raised by the Truman Commission Report 70 years ago.

Operationalizing Measures of Higher Education Opportunity in the United States. In these statistical reports, we operationalize the concept of “equity” in terms of several types of deviations from a distribution that would indicate “equal access to education.” For example, we observe the differences across quartiles of family income in the percentages of students entering college and receiving bachelor’s degrees. We also observe the extent to which, for example, the racial/ethnic distribution of the composition of the U.S. population differs from the racial/ethnic distribution of degree recipients.

The Indicators Reports present data as far back as comparable data warrant, often beginning with 1970. Methodological appendices provide additional relevant notes, tables, and figures.

The Search for Solutions Shared Dialogues. In addition to providing longitudinal indicators of equity, the reports are intended to advance productive conversation about effective policies and practices for improving equity in higher education opportunity and outcomes. To this end, we include periodic essays that connect the indicators to current policy debates or provide detailed examination of a relevant topic. We hope that the indicators and essays promote productive dialogue about how to create meaningful improvements in higher education equity.

The 2019 Indicators Report, the Equity Indicators Website, and the accompanying Search for Solutions Shared Dialogues are made possible with support from the Travelers Foundation, Lumina Foundation and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. While we heartily acknowledge their support, any errors of omission or interpretation and the opinions expressed in the reports are the sole responsibility of the authors.

Highlights from the 2019 Report:

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