Skip to content

Schatz Reintroduces Legislation To Narrow College Achievement Gaps, Support Students Of Color, Veterans, Disabled Students

Bill Would Establish Competitive Grant Program for Higher Ed Institutions to Address Inequities

HONOLULU – U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) reintroduced the College Equity Act, a bill that would give colleges and universities funding to address disparities in higher education recruitment, admissions, and support.

“There are schools where veterans, people of color, and people with disabilities are able to thrive, and others where they struggle. The difference often comes down to schools knowing the challenges that exist for students and doing something to help,” Senator Schatz said. “This bill provides federal funding so that the doors of every college and university are open to qualified students from all walks of life – and that these schools can offer the resources students need to graduate on time and make a good living for themselves.”

Higher education promises economic mobility for all Americans, but outcomes for today’s college students are far from equal. Severe racial inequalities persist across measures from acceptance, enrollment, and completion rates to post-graduation salaries and student loan debt. Over half of all college students with disabilities do not graduate within eight years. And only half of U.S. students at four-year universities and colleges who received Pell Grants in 2011 graduated within six years.

The College Equity Act takes three steps toward addressing these kinds of achievement gaps. First, it provides funding for colleges and universities to examine how institutional practices like admissions policies, financial aid processes, access to campus support services, and faculty diversity contribute to gaps in student outcomes by race and ethnicity, gender, income, ability, transfer status, military and veteran status, and other lines of identity. Second, it creates grants for institutions that have completed these audits to develop and execute improvement plans to address the findings. Finally, the bill increases accountability by sharing the findings of audits with higher education accrediting agencies, which can then provide technical assistance and share best practices across institutions.

Individual schools and systems have shown success in closing these achievement gaps. San Diego State University has bucked trends by graduating 76 percent of all student veterans, nearly twice the national average graduation rate, exemplifying the positive impacts of targeted resources and customized support. With over 50 percent of students receiving Pell Grants and a student body of 60 percent people of color, Georgia State University recently increased its graduation rate by over forty percentage points by offering advising, mentoring, and tutoring services; providing emergency grants to support low-income students; and keeping tabs on students who may be at-risk of dropping out.

The College Equity Act is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

“If we want to repair deep inequities in our society and make college a more reliable path to economic security, we must provide colleges the opportunity to examine their own practices and recognize where they might unintentionally be harming students of color, student parents, and other groups that too often are not well served by higher education. The College Equity Act would give colleges the tools to recognize where they need to improve and ultimately to serve students and society more effectively,” said Marcella Bombardieri, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.

“Higher education holds enormous potential to transform individual lives, strengthen our communities, catalyze economic and social mobility, and address persistent inequities in our society. Yet many policies and practices limit this potential and hamstring attainment for today’s students, including students of color, students from low-income backgrounds, transfer students, student parents, and students impacted by the justice system.  The College Equity Act will encourage institutions to interrogate the equity impact of their policies and practices – including in admissions and recruitment, financial aid administration, student support services, and faculty diversity – and take productive steps to ensure equitable access, completion, and post-college success for today’s students and for generations to come,” said Mamie Voight, Interim President and CEO of the Institute for Higher Education Policy.

“The College Equity Act provides an opportunity for institutions of higher education to identify equity gaps and correct disparities where they exist. For Latinx students, this is key to improving their outcomes in college enrollment and degree completion, and more importantly, their future success in the workforce,” said Roxanne Garza, Senior Policy Advisor for Education at UnidosUS.

The legislation is supported by Center for American Progress, Institute for Higher Education Policy, New America, UnidosUS, Center for Law and Social Policy, and Third Way.

The full text of the bill is available here.