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Ruling, Deficit Take Educational Diversity From Race to Economics

August 11, 2008 05:57 AM
by Christopher Coats
In an effort to increase diversity in public schools and universities in light of recent Supreme Court rulings, educators have turned their attention to economic disparity.

A New Route to Educational Inegration

The underlying intent of educational diversity is to assure that all public educational institutions provide an equal level of opportunity and resources.

Following the conclusion of Meredith v. The Jefferson Board of Education, which issued a ruling that seemed to suggest a move away from schools being able to use race or ethnicity as a factor in efforts to ensure diversity, educators have increasingly monitored economic disparities and their effect on education.

The ruling represents a dramatic shift away from race-based education policy in the vein of the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Ruling. Though it did not directly affect the use of race in admission decisions at universities, leaving the 2003 Grutter v. Bollinger decision in place, it did suggest a move away from race-based decisions and towards the use of economic factors.

Citing studies that have shown a dearth of low-income student participation on the high school and college level as well as lower test scores, institutions have begun instituting programs aimed directly at closing the economic gap.
These efforts have also increased scrutiny of universities that offer a small percentage of grants and other financial aid, despite large endowments, which fund such economic support.

Universities such as Yale currently provide Pell Grants to seven percent of their student body, compared to the University of California’s 25 percent, leading some to suggest an inadequate effort to support low-income students.

To counter the disparities deemed responsible for the uncommonly low number of low-income university students, educational institutions such as Amherst have launched efforts to bridge the economic gap.

In addition to increasing the number of students eligible for grants, the Massachusetts college provides additional work-study opportunities for lower-income applicants.
Taking a broader approach, New Jersey’s Rutgers University has started a Future Scholars program, targeting lower-income students as early as 8th grade.

Meanwhile, on a primary and high school level, districts, including the massive Jefferson County, KY, have begun to view economic factors as a replacement for race and ethnicity when it comes to assuring diversity in schools.

While observers have commended such efforts, a number have pointed to the difficulty in applying this approach in many parts of the country.

While schools in racially and economically diverse areas could apply this class-based integration policy, critics argue that urban areas with a largely homogeneous population such as Detroit might not benefit from such an approach.

Outside of educational institutions, organizations have moved to deal with the economic gap in education by addressing the needs of such students and facilitating relationships between students and colleges.

Background: Meredith v. Jefferson Board of Education

While many viewed the Supreme Court ruling on Meredith v. Jefferson Board of Education as a major set-back for school integration and equal educational rights, some initial critics have commended the impact it has had on the evolution of economic and class-based school integration. The most oft-cited positive case is in Jefferson County, KY, the site of the 2007 Supreme Court ruling.

Related Topics: Brown v. Board of Education; economics in education

The 2007 Supreme Court ruling stated that schools could no longer use race and ethnicity as a factor in deciding which schools attend, a move that some saw as essentially reversing the Court’s 1954 decision on Brown v. Board of Education. The landmark ruling surrounded the earlier ruling on education being “separate but equal”. The ruling was seen as the beginning of the end of school segregation in America.
Keeping students, parents and educators up to date on the state of economic diversity on America’s college campuses, provides current information and statistics on the financial standings of universities across the country. The site provides statistics on the finances and ethnicity of each student body and the level of student loans still available. Meanwhile, Questbridge works to facilitate a dialogue between lower-income students and the country’s educational institutions.

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