This summer, I am an intern at the Data Quality Campaign (DQC), an advocacy organization that aims to use education data to empower students, parents, educators, and policymakers with the information they need to help students succeed. Because I am working at a smaller organization, there is a lot of flexibility in my job description. I am even encouraged to go and attend different events around the city to learn more about the field of education. This morning I attended the “Race Gaps in Higher Education Completion: What Do Data Say? Briefing” hosted by the Lumina Foundation.
The event consisted of panelists specializing in Native American, African American, Latino, and female populations’ equity (or lack thereof) in education. One of the panelists kicked off the discussion by stating that “data is the language of D.C.”. This gave me particular joy, as it validated the work that we do at DQC. Using data, particularly the 6-year graduation rates from 4-year institutions, the panelists contextualized the success gap rates of their respective minority groups in higher education. The following are some takeaways from the event that I found interesting.
Although systematic disadvantages are often blamed for inequalities among racial and ethnic groups, it is often not the students, but rather what colleges do (or don’t do) for students that contributes to the success or failure of a particular group. For example, one panelist argued that it is critical for institutions to shift their focus from enrolling minority students to retention, by serving these students and making resources more accessible. Simple and low-cost solutions such as the expansion of Chicano or African-American Diaspora studies, and the creation of role model or mentorship programs don’t take much resources, but have proven to have large impacts.
Public policy issues are also multifaceted, and factors such as income and race are not mutually exclusive. This intersectionality can be seen with matters such as child care access: child care access is critical to the graduation of independent mothers, but African-American women disproportionately raise children independently.
Finally, a common thread I heard throughout this event was that different minority groups want to be seen. Through increased and focused data collection, we can help to track the outcomes of groups such as student parents and Native Americans to help them be seen, and their unique concerns be heard
While it was exciting to get out of the office and take a trip to Capitol Hill, it was more exciting to hear major players in the world of education policy speaking so highly of data collection. I’m proud to be working for an organization that advocates for the use of data in education. Improved use of quality data helps to shed light on issues such as race gaps in higher education completion, and bring these critical issues to policymakers attention.