Tennessee’s Black and Hispanic students are far from having access to an equal education when compared to their peers. A new report from education nonprofit SCORE shows that the racial inequities seen in K-12 are also apparent in public colleges.
One issue is preparation. Black kids are more than twice as likely as white students to be underprepared for college after graduating from high school.
“I think it has a lot to do with the preparation that they’ve had — the exposure to courses that are considered college preparatory,” says Russell Wigginton, SCORE’s chief postsecondary impact officer. “You can’t underestimate exposure. Familiarity and access … is invaluable.”
Another issue is that half of Hispanic kids take steps to enroll in college but don’t end up going in the fall. Wigginton says sometimes these students have an economic responsibility to provide income for the family.
“The need to earn income now is real,” he says. “If you are the first-generation to go to college, the possibility of delaying [enrollment] for a year or two is high.”
There are also additional barriers for undocumented students who don’t qualify for in-state tuition rates at Tennessee’s public colleges. SCORE says it’s possible that the state’s tuition policy is pushing them to private colleges.
According to SCORE, there are a total of 202,634 undergraduates enrolled in Tennessee’s 49 public colleges. Hispanics make up 5.6% of these students, while Blacks make up 17.2%. Whites make up 67.8% of the undergraduate population.
Both Black and Hispanic students are underrepresented in four-year public universities compared to Tennessee’s K-12 enrollment demographics. And at two-year schools, Black students typically earn fewer credits than white students in their first academic year.
SCORE, however, says they’re developing in- and out-of-school partnerships to support student academic and economic needs. They’re also working with employers to expose Black students to career opportunities at an early age.