A Response to the Supreme Court’s Decision on Affirmative Action

Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions

Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions

The Supreme Court decision to uphold the ban on affirmative action in Michigan and allow states to determine whether to permit or prohibit its use in college admissions will have far reaching effects on the higher education landscape that extend beyond basic enrollment. This ruling, in combination with recent performance-based funding measures in some states, has the potential to greatly restrict access and resources for students of color.

In a 6-to-2 decision, the majority determined that it was not the responsibility of the Supreme Court to decide this issue, but rather the people each state by the ballot.

Moderate to sharp declines in enrollment numbers at flagship institutions in states like California, Florida and Michigan illustrates the damaging effects the absence of affirmative action has on enrollment for students of color at these institutions. This shifting enrollment pattern is also negatively influenced by performance based funding, which incentivizes public institutions to value more academically prepared students with fewer risk factors for dropping out, rather than dedicating resources to develop students, especially low-income and students of color, with the potential to succeed. These two policies together, have the potential to create additional barriers for students of color, limiting their numbers in flagship public institutions, and effectively forcing them to more regional colleges and universities.

African American, Latino and Native American students are more likely to be from low-income families and under-resourced, under-performing high schools, limiting their ability to enter college fully prepared. These students may have the same academic potential, but have lacked the opportunity to demonstrate their ability. Performance funding evaluates success based on measures that often do not account for outside factors such as these and typically do not reward institutions that help students overcome these challenges. As top-tier public universities compete for the highest performing high school students to ensure high marks based on performance-based funding practices, students of color that may require more support services may not be admitted.

In addition to resources allocated by performance based funding measures, states disperse more funding per student to flagship institutions than other regional and local public institutions. As students of color are directed out of flagship institutions, some states with both of these regulations in place will devote significantly less spending to the education of low-income, students of color compared to their White peers. There is potential for this trend to accelerate as the federal government proposes similar performance-based funding measures that may also negatively affect access.

In the U.S., more than 80 percent of new White students attend selective four-year schools, compared with 13 percent for Hispanics and 9 percent for African Americans. In four states—Arizona, Oklahoma, Florida and Michigan—governments have both eliminated the use of affirmative action in college admissions, and instituted performance-based funding methods in their public postsecondary systems. For minority serving institutions in these states, their role in maintaining access to higher education for traditionally marginalized groups is as important as it has ever been. We hope that as higher education leadership in these states and others propose policy changes based on the Supreme Court’s ruling on Tuesday, the Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions can be a resource to those institutions and postsecondary systems hoping to preserve the higher education opportunities for all students.

The State of Public Funding & HBCUs

William C. Boland & Marybeth Gasman

William C. Boland & Marybeth Gasman

It’s no secret that HBCUs and MSIs routinely receive the short end of the fiscal stick when it comes to higher education state appropriations. The Southern Education Foundation’s James T. Minor explored this issue in an important 2008 report (Contemporary HBCUs: Considering Institutional Capacity and State Priorities) that focused on 4-year public HBCUs in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and North Carolina. Minor also evaluated enrollment changes and advanced degree program distribution in these states. We sought to update his analysis with a new report.

Our primary research questions were:

  • Is Black student enrollment increasing at public PWI?
  • Have there been substantial changes in advanced degree program distribution?
  • Has enrollment in public HBCUs declined?
  • Has the enrollment of other racial and ethnic students increased at public HBCUs?

We found that Minor’s argument remains as salient today as in 2008:

  • State governments prioritize PWIs and flagships when making appropriations
  • Black student enrollment in PWIs increased in two states and stagnated in two
  • HBCUs do not have an adequate share in the distribution of advanced degree programs
  • Ethnic composition of HBCUs indicates the need for them to continue to broaden their reach and expand their mission

While many public (and private) institutions suffered from the aftershocks of the recent recession, HBCUs (and Minority Serving Institutions) were particularly affected. We found that recent state funding to HBCUs in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi is far below pre-recession levels. This is recognized as the new financial normal for public higher education in the United States and will force all public institutions to pursue alternative funding methods. Only North Carolina has seen state funding rebound. Still, HBCUs continue to be funded at a lower rate than PWIs in this state as well. Even accounting for institutions of similar size, a disparity exists.

Nationwide enrollment trends apply to the states in our study. Overall HBCU enrollments declined slightly in Alabama and Louisiana from 2001-2011. Yet HBCU enrollment increased in Mississippi and North Carolina during the same time span. Black enrollment in PWIs increased in Alabama and Mississippi. It decreased in Louisiana and stagnated in North Carolina. This reveals a continuing issue of inequity within these states.

Echoing a recent Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions study The Changing Face of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, our study shows a shift in the ethnic makeup of HBCUs in the four southern states. White enrollment has declined, with a slight increase in Louisiana. IPEDS data paint a quickly changing portrait of HBCUs: less white, more brown. Latino student populations are exploding in HBCUs. The Black student population is holding steady, decreasing slightly in some institutions, or increasing in others. Yet mirroring the exponential population increase throughout the U.S., Latino students are flocking to HBCUs – at least in the four states within this study.

Concurrent with state funding declines, HBCUs within these states lost advanced degree programs. Every state saw changes in the number of advanced degree programs public 4-year institutions offer. Yet HBCUs saw a greater decline between 2001 and 2011. Not every HBCU or any college should offer graduate programs. Yet some state governments appear to neglect the crucial role that many reputable HBCUs’ graduate degree programs serve. HBCUs graduate more masters and doctoral recipients amongst African-Americans than any other higher education institution. It is important to emphasize the historical commitment of HBCUs to maintain social equality and afford educational opportunity. Proposals for program elimination or mergers tend to neglect this.

The experiences of the public 4-year HBCUs in the states included in this report offer a general vantage by which to view and compare HBCUs and MSIs nationwide. Though the context may differ, their experiences demonstrate the evolution of these institutions in the past decade and point towards how they will continue to change. Of particular importance is the funding imbalance, the impact on enrollments, the changing ethnic composition of enrollments at HBCUs, and the importance of advanced degree program distribution.

William Casey Boland is currently completing an MS.Ed. in higher education at PennGSE where he will begin a Ph.D. in higher education in Fall 2014 as a research assistant at the Center for Minority Serving Institutions. Marybeth Gasman is a professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education and director of the Center for Minority Serving Institutions (CMSIs). 



New Report Arms Minority Serving Institutions With Relevancy-Focused Data

Marybeth Gasman &Thai-Huy P. Nguyen

Marybeth Gasman & Thai-Huy P. Nguyen

A recent report published by the National Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander Research in Education (CARE) and the Asian and Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund (APIASF) on three Asian American Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions (AANAPISIs) marks a seminal shift in our understanding of Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). The report is based on the first empirical study to longitudinally and rigorously capture and analyze the potential effects of grant-funded interventions on several outcomes at MSIs: transition from developmental to college level courses, credit accumulation, course performance, persistence from one academic term to the next, degree attainment, and transfer from two- to four-year institutions.

Minority Serving Institutions qualify for two major federal benefits: 1) They are given a federal designation that reflects their historical and contemporary commitment to both racial minority and low-income students and qualifies them for 2) grants to support programs and practices that support the achievement of their target student population. For several decades, MSIs have benefited from this unique line of financial support. But when cuts are made to postsecondary education, unlike many well-funded majority institutions, MSIs become the target of constant criticisms used to justify reductions in their federally (and at times, state) funded support. The findings from this new report by CARE and APIASF arm MSIs, and AANAPISIs, specifically, with empirical data to defend their relevance and justify greater support.

The new study examines three community college AANAPISIs, which serve large numbers of low-income Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and the results demonstrate the continued and constant relevance of MSIs:

City College of San Francisco (CA)

The AANAPISI STEM Program was created to increase the presence and improve the successes of AAPI students in STEM majors by providing an official space and a series of student services that addressed common academic and financial challenges. As compared to their AAPI counterparts, who were not enrolled in this special program, students “attempted more academic credits per term… which shortened their time to completion, enrolled in more academically rigorous coursework, and had a higher transfer rate to four-year institutions” (p. 4).

De Anza College (Cupertino, CA)

With a focus on improving the reading and writing skills of their AAPI population, the AAPI-focused learning community, Readiness and Success in College-Level English, was developed for students at the developmental English stage. In addition to the array of support services, this learning community was anchored in Asian American literature courses, an idea that grew out of the belief that student learning and engagement would improve if students were exposed to curriculum that centralized their histories and traditions. De Anza College witnessed exceptional success. Compared to similar AAPI students, who were not enrolled in the program, students in the learning community “were more likely to transition from developmental to college-level English, to pass their college-level English course and accomplished the transition in less time, and earn an associate’s degree” (p. 3).

South Seattle Community College (WA)

With students in developmental English struggling to make the transition to college-level courses, South Seattle also created a learning community for English Language Learners. Students in this program were supported by a wide network of staff, faculty and “peer navigators” who monitored and tracked students’ progress inside and outside the classroom. Compared to AAPI students not enrolled in the learning community, students “were more likely to transition from development to college-level courses, had a higher rate of persistence in the term following the intervention, and were more likely to earn an associate’s degree” (p. 4).

But beyond the positive influence these programs have had on their students, these are not — in our mind — the most important finding from this new study. The results of these evaluations were used to determine the potential of these programs to assist even more students if they were bought up to scale. According to the report, if each institutions’ programs were bought up to scale — meaning, if more funding was provided — the impact would be quite significant with improvements (based on passing, persistence and transfer rates) ranging from 59 to 146 percent of their target population. We are led to ask two questions: Why don’t we give the institutions that know how to improve outcomes for low-income and minority students more funds? And, why don’t we look to these same institutions as models for national efforts to increase attainment among low-income and minority students?

The lesson from this new report is quite simple: MSIs have a measured pulse on the challenges and needs of their students, and they deserve greater financial consideration if they are expected to contribute to the health of our nation. Research on MSIs must continue in the direction of this report by advancing empirical studies that inform evidence-based practices and policies.

This post was previously published in the Huffington Post on April 16, 2014. 

Marybeth Gasman is a professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education and director of the Center for Minority Serving Institutions (CMSIs). Thai-Huy P. Nguyen is a Ph.D. candidate in higher education at PennGSE and a research assistant at CMSIs. 

Tips for Minority Serving Institutions that Want to Build Relationships with Foundations

Caroline Altman Smith

Caroline Altman Smith

Because MSIs educate a diverse array of students, have a unique history and culture, and often serve as anchor institutions in their communities, there are many potential areas of mutual interest with local and national foundations.  But foundations can be mysterious.  Some have a bad rap for not being transparent enough about their grantmaking priorities, and for being fortress-like when you try to reach a live person.  Many MSIs have small development shops, which can make it tough to have a specialized foundation relation function.  But it’s worth spending time and energy building relationships with foundations; they can be a great source of funds, technical assistance and other types of support.  With any luck, it can be the beginning of a beautiful friendship for both of you.

 Advice for Getting Started:

  • Make sure to do your homework by visiting foundations’ websites and learning about their priorities.  Once you’ve determined there is a reasonable potential fit, it is time to contact the foundation.  If you are located in the same city, try for an in-person meeting.
  • If that is not feasible, try to arrange a phone call by setting an appointment, and sharing a brief document to provide background information about your institution and proposed project.  Not all foundations are open to these types of introductory phone calls, but it’s worth a shot.
  • At the appropriate time, engage your president.  Especially in the initial stages when you need to make introductions, establish trust, and share your vision for the institution, the president’s involvement can be very helpful, as presumably he or she is your college’s best spokesperson.
  • Often, foundations will say on their websites that they don’t accept unsolicited proposals.  It’s still worth a call to find out whether or not the foundation would be open to an introductory meeting, and ask what the process for being invited to submit a proposal is.

Keep in Mind:

  • Don’t assume the foundation knows about the special mission of MSIs and the type of students you serve.  Place your institution in a local and national context and be ready to frame and articulate your needs and opportunities in a way that aligns with the foundation’s goals.
  • Many institutions will seek funds for individual programs that serve a modest number of students.  This is often a tough sell, as boosting retention rates for 50 or 100 students at a time is admirable but not sufficient.  Much more interesting are systemic efforts to improve the student experience, increase productivity, innovate in teaching and learning, and increase retention and graduation rates.
  • Broaden your scope and explain your college’s role in your community, however you define that.  Is the college active in a local college access network?  If you are located in one of the 57 Talent Dividend cities, are you playing a role in this collective effort to improve college attainment?
  • If a foundation cannot help with an actual grant, find out if there are other open avenues of support.  Many foundations seek ways to add value beyond the grant check, including hosting convenings, providing technical assistance, making introductions to other funders, and playing an important knowledge management role by sharing resources and the latest research.

Keeping in Touch

  • Ask the program officer if he or she would be open to you “pinging” them every once in a while informally to stay in touch—but don’t overload them.  You could send a note to share some good news (e.g., securing a new grant or the election of a new board chair).  This helps keep your institution ‘top of mind’ for the program officer.
  • Invite program officers to participate in activities and events, which can be celebratory or ceremonial (e.g., special fundraising events) or learning opportunities (e.g., site visits or conferences your institution is hosting).
  • Invite a program officer to serve on one of the college’s advisory committees.

During the relationship-building process, it’s important to be candid with the program officer.  Be frank about the college’s strengths, challenges and needs, while also presenting a positive vision of the future and a rationale of why the college is worthy of investment.  If your college has an emergency funding need, it’s a lot easier to find support if you have already built existing relationships, rather than trying to convince someone to invest in a sinking ship.

Relationships between grantees and program officers can be professionally and personally rewarding.  There’s a powerful symbiosis between foundations and nonprofit institutions, both of whom need the other to achieve their missions.  While foundations can be mysterious, figuring out how to build relationships with foundation staff doesn’t need to be.  Behind every foundation are people, and they are likely drawn to the work for the same reason as you:  because they have an interest in fostering opportunities for people to fulfill their full potential, to strengthen institutions that form the fabric of our society, and to create positive social change.

Caroline Altman Smith is a Senior Program Officer at The Kresge Foundation in metropolitan Detroit, which focuses its education work on improving access to and through college for low-income and underrepresented students.  Learn more at kresge.org or follow @kresgedu.

Breaking the Fundraising Monolith

Noah Drezner

Noah Drezner

Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) have always been diverse. Like most colleges and universities, these often tuition-driven, colleges and universities are feeling pressured to increase their revenues. Therefore, as MSIs acknowledge the increasing diversity in their college-going population, these institutions are becoming more and more diverse. So too should their fundraising approaches.

As Nelson Bowman III, rightfully pointed out, although the numbers are hard to calculate, giving to MSIs is disproportionately lower than giving to predominantly White institutions. How can MSIs increase the philanthropic support of their institutions?

Fundraisers know that the more personal the ask, the more successful it will be. Therefore, knowing your alumni and making solicitations, even annual fund letters, as personal as possible is essential to increased alumni giving. Given that MSIs are often tasked to do more with less and therefore often have smaller institutional advancement staffs, here are some thoughts on how to enhance fundraising programs in efficient and hopefully non-taxing ways for staff.

Understand the diversity of your campus and your alumni. There is growing research that looks at the importance of identity in philanthropic giving. What my research and others have found is that people are motivated differently to give based on their different social identities. Therefore, as MSIs become more diverse, it is very important that their advancement offices understand their alumni-base and not treat them as a monolith. To be the most successful at fundraising colleges and universities should truly engage their donor’s whole-self in their solicitations.

Therefore, advancement offices should develop culturally sensitive solicitation strategies. Lori Spears, in her research, found that the way that alumni are approached to give is important. For example, when institutions employed successful strategies to increase alumni giving for majority populations and attempted the same techniques with minority populations, the initiatives were not as effective. Spears’ work looked at both a predominately White institution (PWI) and a historically Black university. She found that both the PWI and HBCU assumed that their fundraising efforts would work in both the White and Black alumni communities. At neither institution was this correct. As MSIs diversify, alumni engagement strategies that have worked in the past might not work for all alumni and should be adjusted as such. With these more diverse student- and alumni-bodies, MSIs should create alumni councils that engage their diverse alumni. For example, an HBCU should consider creating a Latino/a alumni council. These councils should be used to engage these alumni, seek advice on how to increase alumni engagement and giving. However, MSIs should only institute these alumni councils, if they plan on taking the advice and following through. Too often alumni councils are created, advice is given, and then it is not used, resulting in alumni frustration.

• Collect data and use it. In order for advancement officers to engage in dynamic and culturally sensitive solicitations they must have good data to work with and know how to access the data. The power of a good database, strong data, and a person who can run analyses can be extreme. As mentioned, it is common knowledge that the most successful fundraising strategies involve donor-centric personal solicitations. Yet, it is simply impossible to personally ask each prospective donor—especially if an institution’s development office is understaffed. Therefore, using data can help fundraisers understand their alumni and create dynamic segmentations that can make the annual fund letters and calls more personal and, therefore, more successful.

Collecting data and resurveying an entire alumni population can be very expensive. Therefore, thinking about how to collect this data in cost-effective ways is essential. For example, begin collecting data about your students while they are on campus. How do they identify? What are their interests? What student activities are they involved in? All of this information will be very valuable in the decades to come. Many campuses use software packages such as OrgSync or Collegiate Link; these might be expensive programs to implement. However, collecting data on student group membership does not need to be all that taxing. At minimum, having a policy that each student group—or to begin with a select few (e.g.; Greek organizations, marching band, and student government, etc.)—provide a yearly list of members is an excellent start. Those lists should be coded in the alumni database. For current alumni, use events on campus or off to ask one or two important questions when they register. In exchange for answering the questions enter them into a raffle small gift like a t-shirt or sweatshirt. Additionally, many institutions have culled old yearbooks to record alumni student involvement.

• Finally, think about the next generation of alumni as donors. MSIs should begin teaching the importance of philanthropy to your institution prior to students leaving campus. For example, Development officers (lead by the Penn Center for MSIs’ own advisory board member Nelson Bowman III) at Prairie View A&M University, a public historically Black university outside of Houston, TX created a new student philanthropy program that is based on the concept of “philanthropy by the students, for the students.” Beginning in academic year 2012-2013 students made their first contributions, creating an endowment that will provide scholarships to their fellow students.

The power of this initiative is not about the size of the gift. They are asking for $10 per student; however, it is about teaching students about philanthropy, how it works, and seeing it help others around them. The students are involved in the solicitation, the giving, and the decision-making on how the newly created funds will help fellow students. This co-curricular education will be invaluable in engaging these students as young alumni and throughout the rest of their lives.

As MSIs, like all institutions, diversify and realize that they need to increase their alumni engagement and giving in order to meet budget and provide the excellence that they seek, it is important that they look at and understand who their alumni are, and engage them as such—and not settle for cookie-cut fundraising across their alumni population.

Noah D. Drezner is an assistant professor of higher education at the University of Maryland, College Park and an affiliate at PennGSE’s Center for Minority Serving Institutions