Sara Goldrick-Rab, professor of higher education policy and sociology at Temple University and founding director of the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice, and Clyde Wilson Pickett, vice chancellor for equity, diversity, and inclusion at the University of Pittsburgh, discuss pandemic-related inequities in higher education.
FASKIANOS: Welcome to CFR’s Higher Education Webinar. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president of the National Program and Outreach here at the Council on Foreign Relations. And we welcome you and are happy to have you with us today.
Our meeting is on the record and the video and transcript will be available on our website, CFR.org/Academic. As always, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy.
So we’re delighted to have Sara Goldrick-Rab and Clyde Wilson Pickett with us today to talk about pandemic-related inequities in higher education. We’ve shared their bios with you, so I’ll just give a few highlights.
Dr. Goldrick-Rab is professor of higher education policy and sociology at Temple University and founding director of the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice in Philadelphia. She’s also the chief strategy office for emergency aid at Edquity, a student financial success and emergency aid company, and founder of Believe in Students, a nonprofit focused on distributing emergency aid. She’s known for her innovative research on food and housing insecurity in higher education and for her work on making public higher education free.
Dr. Pickett is vice chancellor for equity, diversity, and inclusion at the University of Pittsburgh. In his role, he provides leadership for university-wide comprehensive diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy. Previously Dr. Pickett served as chief diversity officer for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System. And prior to that, he held positions with several other colleges and universities, including the Community College of Allegheny County, Ohio Northern University, Morehead State University, and the University of Kentucky.
So thank you both for joining us today.
You know, we really want to have a—dig into this conversation, the primary ways the pandemic has contributed to inequities in higher education that were already there, but we’ve seen the gap widen. So, Dr. Goldrick-Rab, it would be great if you could begin by talking about the financial challenges, including non-tuition related challenges, related expenses that you’ve seen pre-pandemic and now with the pandemic. And then we’ll go to Dr. Pickett.
GOLDRICK-RAB: Great. Yes. Well, thank you so much for having me. And it’s great to be here virtually with you all today. It’s a real honor. And I’m delighted to be here with Clyde and looking forward to this conversation.
This topic of what students go through in order to pay for college is something that I spent about twenty years studying. And a lot of what we have learned over that time is that the challenges are a lot more complicated and a lot more substantial than simple numbers, like the net price of college or the amount of financial aid, would have you believe. So even prior to the pandemic, we saw that students were, for example, having trouble because what the college said it would cost to go there is inclusive of living expenses. And what a college estimates for living expenses is often off.
So for example, right, if a student is living at home with their family, the assumption might be that the family is not charging rent. But a lot of students were, in fact, paying rent while living with their families. So one key thing that was challenging was information and, you know, just a good sense of what one had to budget for. A second really big challenge is that the financial aid system was really set up to support a fraction of college students, not to support the majority. And as result, there’s a lot of paperwork required. There’s a lot of hoops to jump through in order to be able to get and keep financial aid. And, frankly, there’s only a limited amount of money.
And so the financial aid, even before the pandemic, was leaving students way short, especially when it came to grants. And that’s one of the main reasons that we saw the big increase in loans. The other thing is that the financial aid system is heavily bureaucratic. It moves very slowly. And so when a student has an unexpected expense or a shortfall—you know, a car breaks down—it is very hard to get that money quickly using standard financial aid.
Another big challenge, it has to do with what happened to people’s families, right? So the status of American families over the last twenty years, and the extent to which they can’t actually make ends meet, the extent to which they can’t survive an unexpected expense themselves, means that a lot of college students come from settings where there isn’t anybody there to actually be able to help them in that way. They can provide love, and they can provide support, and they can talk to them and be supportive of, you know, what they’re doing. But the idea that every student coming to college has two parents with good incomes who are able to step up and help, that’s been an outdated assumption for a very long time. And of course, that also maps onto significant changes in the racial composition of higher education, into the gender composition, right, the class composition of higher education, and so on.
Another big issue has to do with working. And working during college is actually the backbone of financial aid packages. Students are mostly assumed that they’re going to need to work, and they do need to work. And 70 percent of students were working before the pandemic, and the vast majority of students were trying to find work but couldn’t find it. So that was really hard in a labor market where the minimum wage didn’t, you know, pay particularly well and where, let’s be honest, employers really want flexibility and they’re not particularly impressed with students’ needs to attend class, for example, at given times of the day.
So that, on top of state disinvestment for higher education, which has led a lot of institutions to shift the burden for paying for college onto students, was what thinks looked like before the pandemic. And then the pandemic struck. And we already had gaps in the system. We already had big financial holes for many, many students. And it did a lot of things. It made it harder for institutions that needed to offer students a lot more financial aid or a lot more emergency aid but didn’t have the support available, that don’t have big endowments. When the federal government stepped up, that was good. But somebody actually has to give out the money. And there wasn’t a lot of money to provide for that additional staffing and infrastructure to actually get money to students quickly. That’s a lot of work.
So one of the results is that we find that an average time it takes to get a student emergency aid is about fourteen days. Which is way out of line when you consider that what happens to people in an emergency is they need money fast. Another thing that happened, of course, is that jobs for students have become a lot harder to find, although it’s also been complicated by the fact that employers report they can’t find people to work there. But the kinds of jobs that students are comfortable being in—meaning they feel safe, that work with their work schedules, and that pay a decent wage—are still really hard for many of them to find.
Another challenge, of course, is that many of these students have family responsibilities. So more than one in four students in the United States has a child of their own. So the things that have happened to our workforce as schools closed and parents had to take care of kids happened to our students too. And to the extent that families became sick or, you know, there was a need for caretaking, students had to do that as well. So in all of the ways that affect regular people in American life—in terms of their financial instability, the volatility, the unexpected expenses—things were hard before and things are even harder now.
FASKIANOS: Thank you very much.
Dr. Pickett, I’d like to go over to you now to talk about the challenges that you’ve seen, obviously with the diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts and strategies that you could offer as we look ahead.
PICKETT: Absolutely. Well, certainly I want to take the opportunity to extend my thanks for allowing me to be with you, and to be with our colleagues, and of course to share time with Sara. It’s an honor and a privilege.
Certainly, one of the things that we need to prioritize is that the current crisis has magnified inequities that have been with us for a long time. And as Sara notes, a number of these things have been present. And so as we think about the impact of this pandemic, they’ve exposed future, or I should say, current and more pronounced vulnerabilities that already existed. And they impact our populations beyond what we realize. So we put specific attention, as we should, on our students. But to be mindful that these vulnerabilities and specifically the impact of inequity impacts our colleagues. Certainly, that’s true for our staff of different designations, particularly those who are economically fragile and who are on the frontlines, as well as our colleagues who are faculty.
And to think about how we can’t allow this crisis to be an excuse for how we prioritize equity and how we move a strategic agenda forward. So I wanted to be intentional about leading with that. It’s an opportunity for us to affirm our commitment and our responsibility to addressing inequities broadly speaking across the institutions that make up higher education. In terms of prioritizing specific areas, I think that inequity has been most pronounced in terms of the areas of student support, more specifically thinking about holistic student support and how we’re advancing and thinking collectively about the academic support as well as the broader considerations for how we support our students, the academic priorities of institutions and how we position them front and center.
As we think about the responsibility to provide support for faculty who have to pivot to online exchange and instruction, how do we provide intentional support to meet the needs of different learners and to prioritize that beyond just a compliance lens, and to think about how accessibility and digital accessibility had to be front in consideration—a front and center consideration, I should say—for the work that we do. A part of this work, as we think about broad inequities, also is about the work in terms of thinking about the human capital of our institutions.
I mentioned just briefly the disproportionate impact that we’ve—for frontline staff and individuals of different designation who are advancing work, but also to think about what it means in terms of being the caretaker of a loved one or significant other or child who has a health challenge or has been impacted by the pandemic. And more specifically to think about the childcare considerations that are placed on our colleagues and, as Sara pointed out, certainly our students as well.
This broad conversation that I think is important for us to think about in terms of the broad DEI agenda and the long-term ramifications are for us to think about funding considerations as well as the academic priorities for the future. We’ve seen a number of conversations manifest around the country about learning loss and the impact long term in terms of access of higher education, and to mindful of what that means for vulnerable and populations that have been traditionally underrepresented, underserved, and locked out of higher education. So we need to be mindful of that specific impact.
It is a necessity that we prioritize inclusion in terms of how we move this work forward. We know loud and clear that the pandemic has further illuminated issues of discrimination, bias, and xenophobia. We’ve seen that with the uptick in anti-Asian violence around the country, more pronounced incidents of growth in White supremacist groups around the country. And to think about how institutions can take a more proactive approach in creating inclusive spaces on campuses and online, as instruction has pivoted in different ways, and for us to prioritize that.
Campuses must be intentional about thinking about the holistic needs our students, the basic needs our students, and to prioritize mental health support and technology, as all of those areas have been escalated for consideration. Certainly, to be mindful of balancing safety as a front and center consideration for how we prioritize inclusion is part of our work. And to think about how we prioritize funding allocation for different opportunities to impact populations has to be a consideration as we think about the strategic equity agenda. So I offer those considerations as we begin our discussion and, of course, look forward to delving into more of them, as well as the questions that might come from our colleagues.
FASKIANOS: Fantastic. Thank you very much. Let’s go to all of you now for your questions. You can either raise your hand or you can type your question in the Q&A box and I’ll read it. If you do so there, though, please state your institutional affiliation so that we know where you are, gives us the context for the conversation.
So I’m going to first go to a good colleague, Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome. Over to you.
Q: OK. Yeah. Good afternoon. I’m Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome. And I’m a professor of political science at Brooklyn College.
One of the concerns that I have is the mental health effects on students, and actually all of us—(laughs)—but really on the students, especially students who do not—who are not traditional students. You know, and so they don’t have as many resources available to them. So I was wondering what your insights are on this issue and what could be done institutionally and collectively to address this issue.
PICKETT: I’ll weigh in just quickly here, and Sara, of course, look forward to your comments as well. As a queued up at the beginning, I think this is a front and center consideration as we think about the strategic equity agenda. Loud and clear we’ve heard directly from students that mental health is an area of priority. Before we were in the pandemic the request for additional support and for campuses all around the country was a front and center consideration, how we put particular attention and, more importantly, how we resourced mental health support was an area of rising consideration. And for colleagues who work directly in student affairs and student support, we know that this has always been there.
But as we continue to navigate this pandemic, it continues to be an even greater area of consideration as we think about the impact, particularly on communities that have been most impacted, and particularly thinking about Black and brown communities, and other economically fragile communities, in terms of the need for additional mental health support, and in areas and certain situations where those communities don’t necessarily always connect with mental health support. So that’s another consideration. I think campuses that are most proactive, and higher education institutions that are most proactive are putting in specific resources to continue to build out support for mental health support. And for institutions that are less well-prepared for that, I think having alliances with broader institutions and to think about how we can leverage collective support is the answer for how we get at this.
I want to be clear. I think we have a responsibility certainly to meet the needs of our students. But I don’t want us to miss the opportunity in terms of what we’re hearing loud and clear from our colleagues who are faculty and staff at institutions. Burnout is something in terms of climate surveys and assessments that our colleagues are communicating with us loud and clear. And so we have to be mindful that we have to take care of the individuals that take care of our students. So that’s another part or a level of this that I think we have to keep at a front consideration. So absolutely I appreciate the question and note that we have to put additional resources and think about strategic collaboration across institution types to move this work forward, but to also think about what that means for our staff and faulty in support as well.
GOLDRICK-RAB: I agree. I would say that we have to keep in mind that many institutions don’t have any dollars to spare, and that clearly this is going to require federal support. And I think that even as we’re sitting here right now there is discussion of a package. You know, the reconciliation is going on. And one piece of that package is $9 billion for student supports. And I think the question about the prioritization of those funds and where institutions plan to spend those funds, if they are to come—if they were to become reality, is a critical part of the conversation. You know, the mental health needs of students across the United States were greatest at the nation’s community colleges before the pandemic. And those are the places that had the least level of supports in place. And it wasn’t from lack of recognition of the problem; it was from lack of money.
And so we have to acknowledge that we already had profound inequities, we already had mental health crises. The Healthy Minds Study has been documenting these things for years. And, yes, the current situation’s making it worse. I do want to point out, though, that there are two dimensions to this current situation. One is the pandemic and the effects of the social isolation. The second is the effect of this virus. The Hope Center recently released, to my knowledge, the only study out there on the effect of the virus on college students. And our analyses across about a hundred thousand students across the nation show that it seems that having been infected with this virus is associated with increased anxiety, depression, and food insecurity.
And I’m concerned, frankly, that a number of our institutions are not doing anything to allow students to disclose if they have been affected, so that we could direct more support to them. Now, I understand we can’t require it—and, you know, there’s a big distinction. But these students are at real risk of potentially long COVID effects, and so are staff and faculty. And I think that it is not only urgent that we adjust these challenges, but that we also do the triage that, unfortunately, we have to do because we have limited resources, and perhaps focus them on the populations that have been infected at the highest rates. Which, of course, include Black and brown and indigenous students, and also include student parents, and also include student athletes at very, very high rates. And I think that we’d better attend to it, or we’re going to see a lot of ongoing problems.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Sara, I would like to get the link for that survey, and we can circulate it to the group. And any other resources that both of you would like us to share we will follow up with an email.
So I’m going to go next to Lucy Dunderdale Cate. And please unmute yourself.
Q: Hi. My name is Lucy Dunderdale Cate. I’m with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
I wanted to get your thoughts on just how for leadership, you know, for chancellors, for presidents, how should they be communicating to students that are dealing with these issues? And particularly thinking about it—you know, students, but faculty and staff as well, and particularly being sensitive to that kind of toxic positivity that so often is easy for leaders to do. At the same time, wanting to still be encouraging and to be, you know, we can do this together feeling, but not being toxically positive. Would just love to get your thoughts on that.
GOLDRICK-RAB: So my team is very taken with the research on empathy and care. And I think that a lot of folks often think that that is, you know, kind of glossing over, or maybe just too touchy-feely. But it’s a very effective approach. And what it really means is starting by understanding your students as humans before you think about them as students. Just like we want our doctors to think about as humans before they think about us as patients. It changes the conversation. And what that means is that if you have important information to share with the students that you start with an open acknowledgement that this is a really tough time, right? That we don’t gloss over that or skip past that. That we do give them many, many, many openings to be able to speak to somebody—whether that’s a peer-to-peer, right, whether that’s speak to a professional, whatever that is.
And that we continue to not just—it’s important, frankly, that we don’t just cheerlead and push people, I think as you might be alluding to, towards, you know, just keep going, just stay in, everything is fine, but openly acknowledge that everybody right now is really slogging through it and that coping is incredibly difficult. And I think that the one other piece is that, in my view, this starts with leadership. This really is not effective and cannot happen if the president doesn’t embrace it, because it really trickles down from there, frankly. And it has to be in multiple places.
So this should be reflected in a statement that’s on every syllabus, right? It should show up on the management system, it should show up in correspondence. You know, anything that the institution can do to remind students that they get it. Cutting red tape right now, right? Removing more bureaucracy, relieving and getting out of any kinds of requirements that are not necessary—all of those things are human-centered things.
PICKETT: I appreciate everything that Sara offered. And I double down on that in terms of thinking about the senior administrative approach to this. Certainly, there exists consultative means to engage students, and I think we utilize those. Having had the opportunity to work on different kinds of campuses, I do think it’s mindful for us to be attentive of the populations that don’t easily have ready access to senior administration. Having had the opportunity to serve at a community college, quite often we know that there is a more guided path to get directly to student input and feedback.
But I think it’s critical to use the necessary means to get directly to students. I think the intentionality that Sara points out in terms of having empathetic messages communicated in different mediums is critical. Whether we’re using social media, whether we’re doing that on our syllabi, whether we’re doing that specifically as it relates to the messages that we put out to the campus community, I think there has to be consistency in the chorus that speaks to the empathy of the now and how we’re working to navigate this together.
The toxic positivity that you referenced I think is prevalent at a number of institutions. And for us to be mindful of what that means—one of the ways that we were able to execute that here at the University of Pittsburgh was a townhall series that we put in place for all stakeholders called This is Not Normal, to just identify collectively as a community that what we’re experiencing is absolutely abnormal, and to talk about what that experience was, and to think about collectively how we could move as a community to respond to the needs and to have ongoing triage and collective concern and outreach by all constituents.
And I think to do that, and to be attentive to those populations that are most removed from senior administration, is something that we have to do. So utilizing our colleagues at all levels, specifically looking at peer mentoring models that offer opportunity to have communication with students, and to think about starting those messages during the orientation process is a front and center consideration to move that agenda forward.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to go next to Pearl Robinson.
Q: So, Pearl Robinson. I do African politics, international relations, African studies at Tufts University.
This being the Council on Foreign Relations, I want to bring up the issue of study abroad. And certainly, last year Tufts both undergraduate and graduate study abroad international relations is very important. The university decided it had to bring home students from all of our study abroad programs except Oxford, which was deemed safe. And we were told how everybody was living with families. And of course, at the end of—they had to eventually bring those people home again. So now we’re talking about our study abroad programs. Will we have one in Ghana? I had counseled two students who are going to be studying Africa at either at SOAS or LSE. Maybe we have to shut down Africa because it’s too dangerous.
I actually want to know, are there are universities that are thinking about the implications of creating—or, not having study abroad opportunities for students in non-European places, and ways in which you might be able to do things? Like, I participated in a couple of very exciting webinars with African universities where there’s some kind of interaction. So I just want to know, has anybody been thinking about that? And does the Council maybe have that on its agenda? Have you been doing it secretly and I didn’t know about it?
FASKIANOS: We can look at it for a future topic, Pearl. Do either of you want to?
GOLDRICK-RAB: I don’t have any expertise in this space, except to say that I spoke to folks at AIEA yesterday and, you know, they’re very concerned about students’ health and wellbeing.
PICKETT: And the same on my end. I wouldn’t have anything in terms of expertise to offer but would say from an administrative standpoint it’s intentional for us to be mindful of the different opportunities that we engage with, and to use an equity lens with regard to how we’re monitoring those experiences. I know loud and clear as we think about race and ethnicity being a front and consideration as part of this pandemic and our response to be mindful of the ramifications and the impact on different communities. So leadership should put that front and center in consideration, but in terms of specific things that I’ve seen directly, nothing that I could offer. But I do—should I find information I’ll definitely pass it along to Irina.
FASKIANOS: And just to follow on a bit, granted from a different angle, what about the pandemic-related inequities facing international studies? What is the—you know, on your campus, the international studies, and have they been able to come this year? And maybe that would be an opportunity to create some international experiences on campus.
PICKETT: Absolutely. I think different institutions obviously are in different places with regard to that. We’ve had a number of students who have been able to return to campus. But to mindful that there has been a significant impact, particularly as they think about housing and what the experience is like in the community. And as we think about, particularly depending on where individuals come from, how they self-identify, and the rising tide of what I would classify as racism and xenophobia potentially impacting those students is a consideration that we have to put front and center.
GOLDRICK-RAB: Yeah. I would say that, you know, again, we had big problems before the pandemic with folks not being able to really afford to be here the way they had hoped to be able to really afford to be here. We had students—international students at food pantries well before the pandemic. You know, certainly the number who can’t be here at all right now is one issue, but I also want to note that one good thing is that the federal government’s Higher Education Relief Funds, the HEERF III dollars in particular, which came out this year, which provided emergency aid to students, does not require students to be United States citizens in order to get those funds. It doesn’t even require them to fill out a FAFSA either.
So institutions, all of them that receive Title IV, have a substantial amount of emergency aid dollars right now which they could choose to leverage to support international students. Furthermore, their institutional allocations of those same dollars can also be used for those purposes. And so in this case, again, everyone is a human. And we do not have to choose to treat people differently based on that status as an international student. I don’t know how widespread that understanding is. It’s very clear, frankly, in the federal FAQs. But that’s stuff the lawyers read. And I’m concerned that people who advocate for these students might not be aware of this. Or maybe they’re not being heard in terms of where the dollars are going to be put.
PICKETT: I’d double down on what Sara offers in terms of us thinking about the institutional ethos for support for those students and that student population. How we prioritize that agenda and how we amplify the voices of advocates, particularly for our international students, is a front and center consideration that was present, again, before—you’re noticing a trend here—was present before the pandemic. But nonetheless, one that we have to continue to prioritize as a consideration. And as those dollars are available, institutions being willing to make the appropriate allocations and supplement them where necessary to continue to support different students populations, including our international students.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. While we wait for a few more questions to queue up, how about the digital inequity? I know, Sara, you said before we got started that you were teaching all online. So the digital inequity has been a big concern, and we’ve really seen that, as well as, you know, people not wanting to turn on their cameras because, you know, they are sharing spaces, and might not want to show their homes, and all of that. So can you talk a little bit about how—what you’re thinking on that.
GOLDRICK-RAB: Yeah. I mean, it’s a huge issue. So, I mean, the first thing is, again, I keep saying before the pandemic. But, you know, I spent twelve years living in Wisconsin. We had tons of college students all over the state who did not have broadband access, OK? So, you know, and it was a time when, frankly, the state was cutting—well, it’s continued to cut state support—but it was cutting back the ability of in-person campuses to even be there and telling people to go online. And there really wasn’t real ability to do that. So this, again, is a longstanding problem. We have the same challenge here in Pennsylvania, especially in rural communities.
I am teaching online right now. And I want to say that, you know, part of the reason is because there’s a whole population of students that want online instruction. These are people who would have to commute quite a long ways to get to school. These are people who have children and are juggling that. These are people who have health challenges and/or other disabilities, right? So there is an appetite for online instruction. One of the biggest challenges, of course, is not only do they have the technology for online instruction, but also who has access to teachers who are comfortable, and well-trained, and good at online instruction? And unfortunately, because we have not made those investments—and, frankly, I think we should view those as infrastructure investments—we did not resource the people who need to do the teaching so they can be prepared. Then we have some of the most vulnerable students getting taught by teachers with the least time and ability to able to kind of pivot like this.
We do also have a workforce, frankly, of a lot of folks in wealthier parts of higher education where professors don’t think of themselves as teachers. They think of themselves as researchers, and so on. And so getting them to invest the time to learn to teach online is also a challenge. That said, it can be done well. And, frankly, a student doesn’t need to turn on their camera to be engaged in a course. And to me, the fact that we keep having that conversation—which is, you know, far from just your question, everybody’s asking that question—tells me that we have people who are not taught about how to do engagement with students who can’t turn on their cameras. I open up multiple channels for students to be able to interact with me while I’m teaching. They message, OK? They can hit on Slack. I run multiple things. But it requires that I know how to do that and that I am suited to that task.
So the last part is this: I mean, here in Philadelphia it’s hard to believe, you know, that people would really have trouble getting on the internet. But they really do because they can’t afford their internet bills. And so I have multiple students right now who are telling me that they’re accessing everything using their phone, not on their laptops. Their phone is their laptop essentially. And they don’t have wireless, so they have very spotty service. So they didn’t even know that our university offers hotspots now. And so one big part is informational, connecting them to that.
PICKETT: I think it’s critical, appended to the comments that Sara makes, to be attentive of different populations. Certainly, it’s pronounced—it was pronounced at the beginning of the pandemic that there were a number of issues with access to broadband internet in different communities. Obviously having spent time in the state of Minnesota and thinking about the native and indigenous population and the opportunities where there was limited broadband access there, as well as hardware limitations, those are considerations that I think a number of communities have pronounced as areas of consideration. And that’s true, I think, for different areas.
Certainly, that’s true in western Pennsylvania. And as Sara points out, we have a number of students of different backgrounds and of varying means economically that choose to access their courses via cellphone. So to think about the different kinds of instruction and how we’re supporting our colleagues to observe equitable practices in a virtual environment, and to think about how we have to systematize that and appropriately educate our colleagues deliver that kind of instruction is a consideration.
I think the other areas of consideration, particularly as we’re thinking about digital accessibility or the conversations about general academic support in different models of delivery—so whether we’re thinking about asynchronous delivery of instruction or the different modalities of learning, to be mindful that different student populations respond to different ways and different things. And to put that as part of our consideration for the academic agenda is a consideration that I think we need to be mindful of.
FASKIANOS: And just, if we could hearken back to your experience at the Community College of Allegheny, Clyde, just to talk about the disparities at community college. I know, Sara, you touched upon it, about the mental health crisis that existed before the pandemic and is, you know, they couldn’t address it because of lack of resources. But it would be interesting to hear your perspective, Clyde, from what you’ve experienced.
PICKETT: Absolutely. Having had the opportunity to work directly at the Community College of Allegheny County, as well as the State System of Higher Education in Minnesota, and to serve thirty-seven community and technical colleges, it’s critical for us to put an equity lens in terms of thinking about the access to hardware and to digital resources for all of our student populations. We know that those inequities existed before that. But in a more pronounced way when we pivoted and made the jump to remote instruction, for a number of institutions and individuals there was the need to provide access to hardware as well as to digital networks for students.
And those gaps existed before and exist now. I think as we think about availability of resources, that is an area of consideration. The other thing as we think about this is modality of learning, and how different populations respond to different kinds of learning. And so that’s another consideration as we think about the strategic equity agenda and how we work proactively to meet the needs of different learners to make available appropriate support, whether it’s online models for tutoring or expanded academic support for advisors—a consideration particularly at our community and technical colleges that I think is a necessity.
The other consideration, and Sara talked about this in terms of the equity lens and experience, to equip our educators with utilizing appropriate training and education to not bias how they engage with learners depending on how they interface with the use of technology. To shut one’s camera off should not at all impact how an individual engages with what’s expected of them in the classroom and certain situations. So to be mindful and to communicate equitable approaches to that exchange I think is a consideration.
FASKIANOS: Are there any places that you would suggest for people who would want to sort of dig in on how to better do that? I think, Sara, you mentioned Digital Pedagogy Lab as a resource.
GOLDRICK-RAB: Yeah. I would really highly recommend Digital Pedagogy Lab. That’s my absolute favorite resource out there. And they do institutes, and they do trainings, and so on. And I really do recommend taking a look.
FASKIANOS: Great. In the work that you’ve been doing, Sara, you know, we’ve seen a lot of reports about the impact of the pandemic on women, and how many women have left the workforce because the childcare issues, and whatnot. So have you done any studies on women leaving college? And you said—I believe you said one in four have a child. So how does that fall out?
GOLDRICK-RAB: Well, so I will tell you, the interesting thing about higher ed is that even though women have a substantial number of challenges, they are less likely than men to drop out. And that’s been true for a long time. There are many books written about why men are less likely to attend college, why they’re more likely to drop out of college, and so on and so forth. Even though, frankly, you know, a woman—like, the disproportionate number, for example, of people with children in higher education are single moms. There are single dads, for the record. There are married dads. All of the different things are there as well.
I would not say that we have done studies, therefore, of them dropping out during this time. But we have done studies of their basic needs and their basic need security during this time. And what I can tell you is that students with children are more likely to not have their basic needs met, to have struggles with food, and housing, and so on and so forth. We don’t see really pronounced gender differences, except that I would say that gender nonconforming students, actually, are much more likely to face these challenges and to find that they’re really struggling financially. Some of the reason for that, we suspect, has to do with the way that financial aid is allocated. Those students are less likely to be able to access parental resources that make it look like the family has money, even though the student is not getting any of that support.
But parenting while in college is already really difficult. And it’s especially hard in the pandemic. Students report not being able to concentrate, right? They report juggling all kinds of additional challenges. And I will say, the schools reopening right now is far from an easy thing. So you know, in many districts across the country, including here in Philadelphia, the schools are intermittently open. We have had, you know, a given class where there’s a COVID infection, and then suddenly the class is shut down. The school’s open, but the student can’t go because their class is closed for the week—they’re quarantining.
This is wreaking havoc for students. I have more students than ever who are saying they don’t know what one week is going to be like to the next. And, frankly, the same thing is true for us parents who are staff and faculty. I am ready at the drop of a hat right now to run down and pick my kids up, because we—you know, we had—we’ve had COVID infections, we had a flood thanks to a hurricane and a tornado. I mean, there’s—you know, so—(laughs)—it is—it is a remarkable time to try to keep anything education going right now.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I want to just ask people, we’re coming to the end of our time. So if you have other questions—I have a whole list of questions. So I can—I can keep going on. (Laughs.) But I don’t want to filibuster here, so please raise your hands.
Clyde, can you talk a little bit more about as you think about DEI leadership, how DEI leaders can encourage their institutions to think more strategically about how they take care of Black and brown population, and deal with these pandemic-related inequities?
PICKETT: Absolutely. I think part of this is for us to think intentionally about how we monitor, check in, and think about the engagement of those populations on our campuses. Loud and clear as we manage and examine enrollment trends at the institutions, I think we need to be mindful of what the presence of our population is for Black and brown communities as part of our institutions, and to be attentive of that. We’re reminded that in the midst of this pandemic was the continued push for racial equity and racial equity in this country. And so a number of institutions, at the same time dealing with the challenge associated with the pandemic, also made renewed commitments to attract and retain more diverse populations across the academy. We saw a number of institutions that made commitments to attract more faculty of color, to be attentive of what it means to support scholars of color, particularly those who are Black and brown.
And so thinking about what that means in terms of DEI strategy work is to be mindful of the different populations, and to assess those experiences as they have come to our institution. So we’re having a lot of conversations across the academy to think about not only the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the pandemic of racism and how it continues to impact our colleagues across the institution, more specifically our students. And so as we think about this DEI strategy, to be mindful of how we examine the experiences of our students and to think about the examination of sense of belonging as they come to our institutions, as well as how they’re assessing the experiences for holistic support. So giving the opportunity for our colleagues who are DEI strategists to have access to the data in terms of thinking about those student experiences, and how we can influence and shape policy as a consideration for the work that we do.
One of the things that I will point to as a consideration, that we’ve had some success in a previous role from a systems standpoint, was to use an equity-based lens approach to reviewing all of our policies, when I was at the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System. And that resource and tool is available online. And we did that to provide real time opportunity for us to think about the policy implications for different populations. And there were a number of things that we unearthed as part of that experience, whether it was a disproportionate impact on Black and brown communities with our financial (holes ?), or to think about other considerations, those are kinds of—the kinds of tools that we can utilize to further move an agenda forward. So I would say that those are things that we have to use as a resource to move our agenda forward.
FASKIANOS: Have you seen there to be a decline in enrollment as well?
PICKETT: Obviously it depends on the institution type. So we know that community and technical colleges have suffered enrollment challenges as part of the pandemic. The University of Pittsburgh, we’re at record enrollment for Black and brown communities here at the university. So I think the institution type, the resources associated with the institution, also obviously impact how and the ways institutions are able to move agenda. So to be mindful of that is a consideration that I think we have to examine. As we think about federal support for higher education—and I know Sara referenced this earlier—that’s a consideration. As we think about the institutions who are the haves versus those been most fragile. It requires us to think about how we make specific allocation federally to influence and support those institutions.
FASKIANOS: Great. Thank you. So if you were advising the Biden administration, the secretary of education, what would be the top two things that you would suggest the Biden administration to do in hiring?
GOLDRICK-RAB: I am advising the Biden administration secretary of education. (Laughs.)
FASKIANOS: There you go.
GOLDRICK-RAB: So do you want to know what we’re advising them? (Laughs.)
FASKIANOS: I do, actually. (Laughs.)
GOLDRICK-RAB: I will say, for anybody who’s interested, actually I testified before Congress yesterday in front of the U.S. House of Representatives around some of the work that they need to be doing. And I really urge folks in higher ed to take a look because the conversation was about hunger and food insecurity, and the committee was the Committee on Rules. And I worry a lot that our higher ed folks are not watching that committee or the committees outside of the education committees. But I believe that Jim McGovern is actually going to play a leading role in what’s going to happen for our students and their basic needs in that space. So it’s at rules.house.gov. And you can see the hearing from yesterday.
I think one of the most exciting things that is about to happen is that a man named James Kvaal is finally going to take his seat and get to do his job as undersecretary of education. You know, our secretary of education is a K-12 expert. And I’ve been really glad to see him bring on some great folks like Eloy Oakley Ortiz from the California Community Colleges as an advisor. But James Kvaal is a higher ed expert. And the undersecretary of education’s role is absolutely critical. And one of the things that he is intending to do, and that we need him to do, is to put somebody in charge of making sure that we change rules and regulations and administrative minutia to help secure students’ basic needs now.
So this is the time to make sure that our students get access to SNAP, right? To make sure that we connect them to the child tax credit. There are so many things that are available to students beyond standard financial aid. And right now, the Department of Ed doesn’t tell them about any of those things. So that is absolutely imperative. And I also will say that with regard to the reconciliation bill and what the House is doing right now in terms of markup, free community college is in there and it needs to be. And it needs to happen. And it needs to pass. And the time is now. And I think that we will never regret that move. I believe that just as we expanded access to K-12 education starting with elementary school and then moving through high school, we should absolutely go for free community college. It will not be the last thing that we do, but I think it’s essential.
You know, I don’t know how much folks remember the last recession, but I was doing a lot of research during that time. And I’ll tell you that all the growth in the enrollment, all the returning growth to higher ed came, right, from students going to community colleges, and came from largely part-time folks. And so we’re going to see people returning because they need higher education. And we need to make sure that those institutions are able to help them succeed. A lot of people think going to community college is not the best move. You know, they don’t have the best outcomes. And I have one really clear answer for you: You get what you pay for. If you give them the resources and you give the students the resources so that they go to institutions and they actually can focus on learning and not worrying about if they have to eat, they will graduate and they will do well.
PICKETT: I, of course, double down on that support for thinking about how we make community college accessible to all. Obviously, a long-standing advocate for community and technical colleges. It’s something that is a priority for me. And we know statistically the largest populations of Black and brown students who ultimately complete a four-year degree start at community and technical colleges. So that has to be a priority. And I think in terms of funding and making that a priority, it is a consideration absolutely that we have to keep front and center.
The other thing that I would offer is for us to think continually about how we support intentional holistic support. Whether it’s mental health support, how we address housing insecurity and food insecurity for consideration for our college students has to be a consideration as well, and to be mindful of what that means long-term. It’s an investment in our future of the country. And so I think we have to be mindful that while there is an investment now, long-term it will yield considerable benefits for us as a nation, and for us to not only provide access, but holistic support during that process ultimately will put us in a much better place and lead us down a greater path holistically in terms of where we want to be in the future for this country.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. And I’m going to go now to Elsa Dias, who has her hand raised.
Q: Yes. I am. Thank you. I am a—I am faculty at a community college in Colorado—at Pikes Peak Community College.
And I’m—so to support some of what is being said currently here. But I don’t think that students are getting what they’re paying for at community colleges. I think that they’re getting much more than what they are getting at community colleges. So that statement is sort of—I don’t know that I appreciate the statement, because I think that students at community colleges we are working with consistently cut budgets, more so than four schools. And we have much more difficulty in raising tuition. It’s not the same thing as in—as in four-year schools. We deal with populations that are in higher need than four-year schools. And we have to meet very different criteria than four-year schools. Our standards in terms of meeting what the students need and what—we are heavily legislated upon, right? So there is these state legislations that sort of affect us very differently than they do four-year schools. So I do believe that students are getting much more than what they are given, and what they get at community colleges.
And some of the things that we see today, during this pandemic at community colleges, are I think the stigma to go to community colleges is certainly—continues to be around. And we continue to not participate in many of the voices that we should be included in at the table. But I also think that it’s important to realize that our administrators are faced with much higher challenges than administrators at four-year schools, and so in the faculty. And the lack of investment in faculty at four-year schools does not even come close to the lack of investments that we suffer at community colleges. We have to do a lot more with a lot less. Thank you.
GOLDRICK-RAB: So if I may respond, I think maybe, Elsa, I wasn’t entirely heard for what I was saying. What I was saying was that you are doing a tremendous amount with very little. And the point is when you say what you get what you pay for, right, is if we want to have 100 percent graduation rates at community colleges, the way we do at Harvard, then we should be resourcing the schools, including the faculty, the student support services, et cetera. What we do in higher education is that we give the schools that educate the most vulnerable the least amount of money on a per-student basis.
So for example, if you take a look—I served on the national taskforce around the adequate funding for the nation’s community colleges. That was all about showing that if you were going to fund community college adequately to actually address the needs of students, and to do so where they would much—have much higher rates of graduation and success in the completion of their programs, you would be spending approximately four to five to six times what you’re currently spending. I outline all of this in a very extensive—I have about a fifty-page report called “The Challenges and Opportunities Facing Community Colleges,” which came out in 2010, which actually delineates the underspending on community college faculty, on community college staff, and so on and so forth.
I think, given the severe economic disparities between these institutions, their students, and the four-year colleges, it’s a miracle that in many ways we get anything, right? That students are able to graduate, because we spend so very, very little. So as a quick last example, in the state of New Jersey taxpayer support goes to Princeton University at fifty times the rate of taxpayer support going to New Jersey Community Colleges. Fifty times. So we should expect, right, that if we increased the support to students at those community colleges there is a strong relationship between the inputs of the finances and the outputs that they produce. I think it’s worthy of a greater investment. So I think we’re actually agreeing.
FASKIANOS: Clyde, anything you would like to add?
PICKETT: Well, just that loud and clear I hear the comments and what Elsa brings in. I appreciate the clarity from Sara there. Having had the opportunity to be an administrator at a community college and a developmental studies adjunct faculty member at a community college, I know loud and clear that we’re working proactively to meet the needs of our learners in a way that supports them where they are. And we do transformational work.
To be clear, that that transformational work should be embraced, welcomed, and supported by four-year institutions. So those of us who are working and serving on the four-year institution side of the house to actually normalize and champion access to community and technical colleges, and to do so in such a way that embraces and makes smooth pipelines and opportunities for our learners who transfer—who complete their education, and to make sure there are appropriate matriculation agreements for programs of study for our students who ultimately complete their four-year education at institutions like the University of Pittsburgh, but start at community and technical colleges.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. We are almost out of time, so I wanted to give you each a few minutes to just touch upon anything we didn’t touch upon or cover or leave us with some final thoughts. So, Sara, why don’t we start with you and then we’ll go to Clyde.
GOLDRICK-RAB: Clyde was about to go. Please go, Clyde.
FASKIANOS: Clyde was about to go. All right, Clyde.
PICKETT: No, I appreciate the opportunity. Once again, thank you for allowing me to spend time with you, allowing me to be with you in community. And this is just an opportunity for us to reaffirm where we are in terms of our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. And more specifically, to acknowledge that the areas of vulnerability that we’ve identified, the inequity, have been longstanding with regard to the academy. It’s an opportunity for us to flip the mirror and have a very long pause, intentional look at how we can make remedy, how we can make change, and how we can affirm and, for some of us, reaffirm our commitment and responsibility to address the inequity that has been present, but has been further exacerbated as part of this pandemic. So now is the time for us to close equity gaps. Now is the time for us to take action. And I look forward to standing with colleagues all around the country to do so.
GOLDRICK-RAB: Yeah. I would just say that, you know, the challenges are really big right now, but there’s also a lot of room for structural change. And I think we need to speak up for it and advocate for it, and not just lament it, right? You know, each of us in this country has a representative, or a couple of them, or a bunch of them, right? And they need to hear about what’s happening to higher education. It’s really, really important. One aspect of the hearing yesterday that was absolutely fascinating occurred when there was an exchange between Representative Cole, who came from Oklahoma, and the panel. And what he said was—he sat back in his chair. And he said: I’ve got to tell you, I’ve learned something today. I did not know that college students could go hungry. I did not know that this was happening. He said, we have to do something about this.
Folks, tell them about what’s going on, because they do not know—many of them do not know. I’m not saying that they’ll all act, but many, many of our public leaders are very, very distanced from the realities that we’re facing, whether we’re staff, whether we’re administrators, whether we’re faculty. They are not getting it. And I think that it is so important that we communicate as much as we can because they have some big work to do right now, and some big opportunities to create change.
FASKIANOS: Thank you, both. This was a really great conversation. We appreciate your insights in sharing your experience with us. And we will put together all the resources that were mentioned here and send them out to all of you to read and digest. You can follow both of our speakers on Twitter, @saragoldrickrab and @cwpick. So please go there. Again, I want to thank Dr. Goldrick-Rab and Dr. Pickett for being with us today.
Next week we have a dedicated webinar series for students. And so our first one will be next week of the semester on September 15, from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. Eastern time, and it’s a great opportunity for students to actually ask their questions. This series is devoted to administrators and professors, but that one is for the students. And we hope you will share with your students and with your colleagues too on campus. So our next Education Webinar for the higher ed community will be on Thursday, October 21, at 12:00 p.m. Eastern time with Brian Mateo to talk about civic engagement in higher education. So I hope you’ll join us next week and in October of the next one.
So with that I encourage you to follow @CFR_Academic on Twitter. Visit CFR.org and ForeignAffairs.com for more information and resources on international affairs. And again, thank you both. We really appreciate it.