LEADERS of a coalition of civil rights organizations have revealed plans to update the 1965 Higher Education Act (HEA), a law that advises on higher education issues.
The Leadership Conference Education Fund (LCEF) is seeking an update to the law by “forging a united front to promote policies that address disparities that students of color, low-income students and students with disabilities and other marginalized groups” face in the pursuit of higher education in the United States.
The reasoning behind the changes is largely due to “significant changes to the student body in the country” and as such, “every student regardless of what they look like, where they came from or their disability status deserves to pursue their dreams,” said Liz King of the LCEF in a teleconference hosted by Ethnic Media Services on Friday, August 30.
The affordability factors to achieving higher education is a main component of the coalition’s mission. The LCEF said that one of the biggest modern challenges of education pursuit is the rising student debt — propagated by for-profit institutions and predatory lenders — that often hinder students’ financial well-being while studying and after graduating.
For many of these students who exist in multiple marginalized demographic groups, especially low-income students of color, “the barriers to higher education begin long before they become a high school senior,” which greatly hinder these students’ abilities to pay their bills and raise a family, said Adrienne Elliot of the National Indian Education Association.
Millennial and Gen-Z students who belong to minority racial and ethnic groups are often the first in their families to attend a college or university, and in order to fund their admission, must take out loans which pose “serious implications” to their success and “social mobility,” Stephanie Roman of UnidosUS said.
For many families of color, higher education is seen as the gateway to securing a well-paying job and ascent on the social ladder, and knocking down the financial, social and political barriers minority students face is “at the center of what the HEA was created to do,” said Roman.
Another update that the coalition has proposed to the existing law involves disaggregation of data, i.e. providing a more granular examination of students’ demographic information . The categorization is often marked by race, and that poses a problem in intersectionality, especially within the vast and diverse Asian student population.
Quyen Dinh, executive director of the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC), noted that although data suggests that students who identify as “Asian” are relatively better off, there are “extreme challenges” faced by Cambodian, Laotian and Vietnamese students, the largest refugee community in the U.S., according to the Migration Policy Institute.
“The first step to addressing inequities for these students is to be seen,” Dinh said.
As such, one of the recommendations offered by the LCEF involves ensuring language inclusion and culturally competent resources, especially in financial aid information. The LCEF posits that Limited English Proficient students and parents should be able to access financial aid information in the language “with which they are most comfortable.”
These recommendations, if applied, would be the first changes to the HEA since 2008. King noted that the current administration has created “opportunities for exploitation of students” and those who stand in opposition of the LCEF, including Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) who heads the House Education and Labor Committee, continue to undermine “all the issues that we speak to in our principles and in our policy recommendations.
“We have seen opposition to the rights of immigrants and the rights of language minorities,” King said. “We have seen opposition to LGBTQ people [in reference to the gendered bathrooms controversy in North Carolina schools] and people with disabilities. We have seen opposition to black people, other people of color and to native peoples’ success in the country. But we are confident that if we all come together, we will be able to advance higher education policy that ensures equity and equal opportunity.” (Klarize Medenilla/AJPress)