Structural racism in Michigan and across the country can be traced back to racial inequities that have persisted for decades. One significant contributor to overall racial inequity is disparities in educational attainment, which is highlighted by a new report from the Lansing-based think tank the Michigan League for Public Policy (MLPP).
According to the MLPP, Michigan is the third-worst state in the country in terms of its share of four-year bachelor’s degrees earned by Black students at just 6.8%.
And only 14% of Native American, 18% of African American and 20% of Latino adults 25 years or older possess a bachelor’s degree or higher — compared to about 31% of the state’s white adults and 66% of Asian adults.
“This stems from a legacy of systemic racism; for example, school and neighborhood segregation in which students of color were provided fewer college preparation opportunities than white students,” a MLPP release reads, adding that these disparities become even more apparent when coupled with geographic location.
The systemic racial effects on educational achievements are worsened by a variety of factors.
For one, Michigan schools have disproportionately high tuition costs. MLPP notes that the state’s average tuition more than doubled from 2000 to 2018 (from $6,949 to $14,288).
Michigan also invests fewer public student aid dollars per student than any other state in the country, with just $4 in aid spent per full time student in Michigan versus $752 nationally. This lack of funding and support for students is a function of Michigan’s broader problem of disinvestment in state funding, which continues to make racial disparities worse.
That disinvestment can also be seen in the state’s significant funding cuts to public universities over the last two decades. The MLPP reports that between 2000 and 2010, total university funds were slashed by $38.5 million.
Further, Michigan is one of the worst states in the nation for counselor-student ratios. The national average is 482 students per counselor, which the MLPP notes is still too high, but Michigan’s 729:1 ratio is much worse. In order to just reach the national average, Michigan would need to hire 1,100 more counselors. Counselors often play an important supporting role in helping students connect to postsecondary education opportunities.
“Educational disparities also stem from the impact of economic inequality on children and their school readiness, school funding systems that do not recognize the added costs of teaching children in high-poverty schools, and lower high school completion rates,” said Gilda Z. Jacobs, president and CEO of the MLPP.
The MLPP’s report provides a number of policy recommendations to make Michigan’s postsecondary education landscape more equitable. This includes scholarships and programs like Michigan Reconnect, which was passed and signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in early April but was put aside to secure more COVID-19 response funding for the state.
The report also recommends:
- Making more state aid available to individuals in state prisons
- Increasing the number of high school guidance counselors in schools that serve large numbers of students with low incomes and students of color
- Removing the citizenship or permanent residency requirement from the Tuition Incentive Program and the Michigan Competitive Scholarship
- Increasing outreach to promote general awareness of the Tuition Incentive Program
“Racism is unfortunately entwined in every aspect of our lives, and combating racism must be fought on multiple fronts. This includes drawing attention to racial inequities and necessary policy changes to reduce or eliminate them, as this report on higher education does, and we will continue to do what we can to promote racial equity and justice in every sense,” MLPP spokesperson Alex Rossman said.
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