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It’s Time To Stop Marginalizing African Americans In Public Higher Education

THE SEATTLE MEDIUM — Higher education officials and policymakers alike need to ensure that these universities are not underserving Black students.

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By Spencer Overton, The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies

Students across the country are putting final touches on their applications for some of our country’s most prestigious public institutions. Higher education officials and policymakers alike need to ensure that these universities are not underserving Black students.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of work to do. A new study from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce shows that African Americans aren’t attending selective colleges (e.g. the University of Michigan, University of South Carolina, University of Houston, and others) at the same rates as their White peers. Even states with a sizable population of average-college-aged Black people (18-24 years old) are falling short. In Delaware, for example, African Americans account for 26 percent of 18-24 year olds, but only 6 percent of students at the University of Delaware.

These public colleges should serve a representative cross-section of students, and be engines of mobility for all students. Unfortunately, they are not. White students make up 54 percent of 18-24 year olds, but account for 64 percent of freshman enrollment in selective public colleges. Meanwhile, Black students account for 15 percent of 18-24 year olds in the United States, but only 7 percent of students in public selective colleges.

Some argue that African American students are less qualified to attend selective enrollment schools, but that isn’t the case. Among students who score in the upper half of standardized test scores, 31 percent of White students enroll in a selective college, but only 19 percent of Black students get that chance. All of these students are highly likely to graduate—students in the upper half of high school test distribution scores have an 85 percent chance of graduating from college. And evidence suggests that some schools may over-rely on these scores, a practice that may over-emphasize affluence and access to quality K-12 schooling. This can hide race and class inequality behind a façade of quantitative metrics.

The Georgetown study also acknowledges Black students may be choosing to attend colleges other than the highly selective public universities. In fact, Black students are going to college in greater numbers than ever. Unfortunately, the open-access colleges they are attending are overcrowded and under-resourced. This is likely affecting their chances of obtaining a degree, as graduation rates are significantly lower for students at open access colleges than they are at selective schools.

America’s higher education system sees the problem, but it is getting worse, not better. Over the last decade, Black representation at selective public colleges fell. For every 100 average college-age African Americans, four fewer are attending public selective colleges than a decade ago. The largest Black underrepresentation in selective public colleges is in the Deep South. In Mississippi, for example, African Americans account for 44 percent of 18-24 year olds, but only 11 percent of students at the state’s selective public college (the University of Mississippi).

The same states where African Americans are underrepresented in selective public colleges are also underfunding the open-access colleges that African Americans attend. According to Georgetown’s study, selective public colleges spend nearly three times more on instruction and academic support than open access colleges. At a time when we need to further invest in developing a skilled workforce for a changing labor market, it’s more important than ever to adequately support public open-access colleges and hold selective public colleges accountable to avoid underserving Black students.

We must bring an end to this separate and unequal education system. It is in our country’s best interest to engage with people from all communities to reach their educational potential. Increasing skills and expanding the number of people who have access to higher paying jobs will help grow the economic pie for all Americans.

Adequately supporting open-access colleges and holding selective public colleges accountable for educating people from all communities would take us a long way toward a public university system that truly serves the best interests of all members of the public.

This article originally appeared in the Seattle Medium

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Trustees of Mills College Approve Merger with Northeastern University    

Mills College in Oakland is merging with Northeastern University following approval Tuesday by the Mills College board of trustees.

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Mills College/Britannica

Mills College in Oakland is merging with Northeastern University following approval Tuesday by the Mills College board of trustees.

The merger is subject to regulatory and other approvals but is expected to be effective July 1 of next year. Mills College, once an all-women’s college, will then be gender-inclusive and known as Mills College at Northeastern University. 

The merger was prompted by financial troubles brought on by declining student enrollment, Mills College President Beth Hillman said. She said the merger provides excitement, relief, and a sense of hope for what’s going to come next. 

“This gives us short-term solutions, medium-term solutions and long-term solutions,” Hillman said of the merger. 

Faculty and staff will as a next step work together to develop the curriculum for undergraduate and graduate studies at Mills. Mills officials said the graduate and undergraduate programs will be relevant to employers and students.

Faculty and staff will also be collaborating on the development of a Mills Institute, which will promote women’s leadership and empower first-generation students, among others. 

College officials said until the merger is complete, Mills will continue to be an accredited degree-granting college led by the current administrators. They said Mills in the coming weeks will answer questions and provide more information about the merger. 

Northeastern and Mills will be working to tend to the financial needs of Mills, which may now be able to pay more competitive wages to faculty and staff.  

Students who finish at Mills before June 30, 2022, will be granted a degree from Mills College. Students who finish after that date will receive a degree from Mills College at Northeastern University. 

Faculty members who have tenure at Mills College will have tenure with Mills College at Northeastern University and the merged institution will be offering tenure-track and adjunct faculty positions. 

Staff who are employed at Mills College on June 30, 2022, will become employees of Northeastern University following that date.  

A judge last month blocked the merger between the two institutions and granted a Mills College alum and voting member of the board of trustees Viji Nakka-Cammauf access to information on the college’s financial condition. 

At a hearing Monday, the judge ruled Mills College complied with the court’s ruling and allowed the board of trustees to vote on the proposed merger. 

“Northeastern has consistently demonstrated that it respects and values the vital contributions that Mills offers, voicing strong support for integrating the powerful mission of Mills through the Northeastern network,” Board of Trustees Chair Katie Sanborn said in a statement. “The Board sees the merger as a positive step forward that will enable the legacy of Mills to endure.”

But Alexa Pagonas, vice president of the Board of Governors for the Alumnae Association of Mills College, said not everybody is happy with the decision. 

“Many Alumnae and those in the Mills community are disheartened that the trustees decided to forego their fiduciary duties by blindly voting to approve this merger without a full and clear picture of Mills’ financial situation or a finalized term sheet as it relates to the deal,” Pagonas said. 

“Dr. Viji Nakka-Cammauf will continue to do everything in her power to uphold her fiduciary duties to the entire Mills community and protect the legacy of the College,” Pagonas said.

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Dr. Kimberly Mayfield Named VP for External Relations at Holy Names University

Holy Names University (HNU) has appointed Dr. Kimberly Mayfield as vice president for External Relations and Strategic Partnerships. 

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Dr. Kimberly Mayfield.

Holy Names University (HNU) has appointed Dr. Kimberly Mayfield as vice president for External Relations and Strategic Partnerships. 

In her new role, Dr. Mayfield will spearhead work to develop partnerships with elected officials and government offices, community-based organizations, businesses, and foundations that provide meaningful opportunities for students and employers while raising the profile of the university.

“We couldn’t have found a more capable leader in the areas of external relations and strategic partnerships than Dr. Mayfield,” said HNU President Mike Groener. “As an educator, administrator, and activist, she lives out our founding mission in her work every day and understands the importance of values-driven, authentic, relationship building.”

Said Mayfield, “I truly look forward to revealing the greatness of Holy Names University to more community members by telling our story, revitalizing relationships, and revolutionizing education by cultivating vibrant, innovative experiences for students.”

Mayfield has a 30-year history with Holy Names University that began as a student in the University’s Multiple-Subject Credential program. After teaching in the Oakland Unified School District for 11 years and earning her Education Specialist Credential, Master of Education degree, and Doctorate in Learning and Instruction from USF, she returned to HNU to teach as an adjunct professor.

She became a full-time professor in 2001 and Dean of the School of Education in 2017. In the summer of 2021, Mayfield was appointed to lead External Relations and Strategic Partnerships in addition to her role as Dean of the School of Education. 

Mayfield’s research interests and activism include creating a permanent diverse teaching force and addressing the disproportionate over-representation of African American males in special education.

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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OUSD Ended Oakland High’s Onsite COVID Testing, Parents and Teachers Want It Back

Oakland High School students attend school from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. every day except Wednesdays, when they get off school around 1:30 p.m. This allows them one day a week in which they have enough time to get tested after school. When testing is onsite, students can get tested during the school day.

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Oakland High School on September 13. Photo by Zack Haber.

On August 30, The Oakland Unified School District informed Oakland High School that they would stop providing onsite COVID-19 testing at the school, but many teachers and parents want the testing services to resume.

“If you don’t test for it, you don’t see that it’s there,” said Christy Mitchell, an Oakland High School teacher. She, and the other teacher who spoke to The Oakland Post for this article requested to use pseudonyms because they fear possible retaliation for speaking out.

Mitchell thinks it is likely there have been COVID-19 cases present in the school that the district has not documented because student and staff’s ability to get tested was greatly reduced when consistent onsite testing left campus. She worries there could be people attending school who have COVID but are not showing symptoms and could unknowingly spread the virus.

Anya Burston, another Oakland High School teacher, was directed to other OUSD COVID sites when she wanted to get tested last week, but she found them inaccessible.

“They gave me the list of the other sites where we could get tested, but they’re only open from 8 to 4,” said Burston. “We work from 8:00 to 3:30.”

If one factors in commuting time, Burston claims, it’s effectively impossible for teachers to get tested at district sites if they are not at the school a teacher is already working at.

Oakland High School students attend school from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. every day except Wednesdays, when they get off school around 1:30 p.m. This allows them one day a week in which they have enough time to get tested after school. When testing is onsite, students can get tested during the school day.

According to OUSD Director of Communications John Sasaki, the district wants to bring back consistent testing to the site but is facing difficulties related to capacity. The district provided a one-day pop-up testing service on Wednesday, and said he said such a service possibly could happen again next week, too.

He encourages students and staff to pursue other testing options.

“We also encourage our students and staff to visit our regional testing hubs, take advantage of community clinics, or get tested by their healthcare provider,” Sasaki said. “Likewise, we have provided at-home tests at all of our schools for families and staff to take when needed. Students are not allowed to miss class for COVID testing.”

The take-home tests are rapid tests, which have a higher rate of false positives and negatives then CRP tests, which take longer to deliver their results. Burston said she asked for an at-home test after not being able to get tested at Oakland High School, but was told there were none available because the school had run out.

She was eventually able to get tested at the pop-up service on Wednesday, but she said when she accessed the service she saw only one other teacher getting tested. She thinks people missed out on utilizing the pop-up testing service because the district informed staff and students about the site less than 24 hours before it appeared.

Sasaki said the district stopped providing regular on-site testing to Oakland High School after the number of positive cases began to decline at the school. During the first week of school, the district has confirmed there were 22 positive cases among staff and students at Oakland High School. This number dropped to five cases during the schools’ second week and then dropped again to one case during the third week.

Oakland High School had the most positive cases of any public school in Oakland during the first week of school, which lead to an entire class of students going into quarantine. The school also had abundantly available testing at that time.

Mitchell and Burston said during the first week of school, when some Oakland High School teachers heard a student in their class had come into contact with a person who had tested positive for the virus, they would take their entire class to get tested on site. At almost all other district sites during this time, students and staff did not have onsite testing available.

“Obviously with that amount of testing you’re going to have a lot more cases coming up,” said Mitchell. “The more testing we did the more cases we found.”

By the second and third week of school, Mitchell and Burston said although tests were still provided onsite, the school would run out of them. When teachers would take their classes to get tested, sometimes there weren’t enough available for everyone.

As testing became less available, COVID-19 numbers went down. During the fourth week of school, when testing facilities had left the site, the district documented no COVID-19 cases at Oakland High School. Last week, the fifth week of school, there were two documented cases.

“I think the optics are a huge concern for the district,” Mitchell said. “But pretending it’s not happening while you’re not testing for it is very disingenuous.”

A group of Oakland High School teachers are working to change the situation and hoping to pressure the district to bring back onsite testing. A few days after they received official word that the district was removing onsite testing, they began talking with each other.

“Many of us are really frustrated and we collectively felt we had to do something if the school and the district isn’t doing anything,” said Burston.

The teachers decided to spread word about the issue through flyers they created demanding onsite testing every day at the school and other COVID-19 safety measures.

They printed 300 flyers they put on walls throughout school and about 1,600 smaller flyers that they distributed to parents and students. The flyers linked to an online petition, which over 150 teachers, students, educators and community members have signed. The petition has interactive elements, in that it asks if those signers would be interested in attending a parent/student/teacher safety meeting.

Jennifer, a parent of a student at Oakland High School, signed the petition. She asked to only be identified by her first name, as other members of her family work at OUSD and she fears they could be retaliated against in reaction to her speaking out. She works in an ER and sees devastation COVID causes first hand.

“I know there’s a lot of kids out there with COVID because our ERs are packed,” she said. “I always support the teachers and I think onsite testing is definitely a necessity.”

Mitchell said teachers are considering direct actions to work towards improving COVID-19 safety measures at Oakland High School.

If Oakland High School teachers were to take such actions, it wouldn’t be the first time in recent history they have done so. On December 10, of 2018, the vast majority of Oakland High School teachers called in sick en masse and rallied outside of Oakland’s City Hall to protest what they saw as low wages and ineffective tactics of the Oakland Education Association, their union.

On January 18, of 2019, they participated in a similar “sickout” action, but this time students and teachers from other schools joined them. Participants estimated over 300 people in total marched to support teacher demands. These actions came just before the Oakland Education Association sanctioned educator strike, which lasted from February 21 to March 1, 2019.

But Oakland High teachers say before they engage in an organized actions related to COVID-19 safety, parents first need to understand what they are working toward, and teachers need their support.

“I think it’s really vital for parents and teachers to be working hand in hand on this,” said Mitchell.

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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