A 2020 study showed that higher education can increase economic prosperity for college-educated Americans. And it can also increase interracial competition in pursuit of the American Dream. In 2021, US Department of Education data showed that most Americans of all races and Hispanic origin attended colleges with higher admission rates. And with race-conscious admission rules in place since 1978, most students did not go to highly selective colleges like Harvard (4% admission rate) and UNC-Chapel Hill (20% admission rate). A July 2023 study showed that highly selective private colleges can increase the number of America’s leaders who are from low- or middle-income families by ending admission practices that favor high-income applicants. Yet, a recent US Supreme Court’s decision stopped colleges and universities (except US military academies) from admitting applicants based on racial preferences.
Most Americans expect the end of race-conscious college admissions to increase interracial competition for admission to and decrease racial diversity in all colleges and universities, including health professional schools. Moreover, four Historically Black Medical Schools (HBMS: Howard, Meharry, Morehouse, and Drew) educate most Black doctors in America and provide effective care for millions of Black and Brown patients. Healthcare policy experts and the Deans of the four HBMSs expect increases in racial health disparities as a result of the end of race-conscious college admissions. Supporters and opponents of race-conscious college admissions agree that tracking progress toward focused and measurable social justice objectives is necessary. We also agree that low family income (indicating social disadvantage) combined with underrepresented race and Hispanic ethnicity as markers of need are necessary for achieving social justice objectives in college admission.
Since 1972, three generations of my immediate family members have been admitted to and graduated from colleges and professional schools, with or without scholarships or student loans. Those institutions have varied from ivy-league through non-selective, with varied legacy-, income-, and race-conscious policies since the 1960s. For my family, higher education’s payoffs in knowledge, income security, and racial harmony have been substantial. However, recently, a Black police officer ordered my 36-year-old, college-educated, Black male family member, an engaged and productive citizen in his community, to drive away from the parking lot of a large chain grocery store around 5pm in suburban Atlanta. My relative left the parking lot for his internal peace and “public interracial harmony” after a young Asian female and her White male companion called the police to falsely accuse my relative of “indecent exposure.” The young man had done no such thing, nor had he interacted with the couple in any way. This incident provides an example of ongoing challenges in search of interracial harmony in pursuit of the American dream and highlights the current need for educational policies that help with overcoming those challenges.
Objective evidence and experience have persuaded policy experts to recommend six interventions to achieve higher education’s payoff in economic security, upward social mobility, healthy families, and racial harmony for all Americans.
Federal, state, and local governments, private businesses, charities, and employers must support college admission and financial aid policies that 1) reduce the tuition and fees for undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees, 2) reward students from low and middle-income families with higher-income pay-offs after graduating from colleges further from home, 3) increase revenues and government grants for colleges and universities that serve the largest percentage of Black and Brown students from low and middle income families, 4) increase the amount of money colleges and universities spend on scholarship financial aid and student instruction in order to increase the chances for their graduates to earn high incomes, 5) waive bachelor’s degrees as requirements for entry-level jobs, emphasizing job-related knowledge and skills as the more important qualifications, and 6) increase funding and effectiveness of K-12 and community college education to better prepare students for colleges and universities attended by the majority of low and middle-income students of all races and ethnic origins.
Benedict I. Truman, MD, MPH, FACPM, is a board-certified Fellow of the American College of Preventive Medicine. He retired from the CDC in May 2022 after 34 years of service. As the chief science officer for the CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health (1989-1991), he worked with State, district, and local education departments, schools, colleges, and universities to promote adolescent and school health and to reduce the adoption of health risk behaviors for chronic diseases and injuries. He has published thirty scientific articles on the effects of education and civil rights laws and their enforcement on health equity. Since 2016, he has served on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice. He and his wife have lived in Atlanta, Georgia for 34 years.