Disrupting Postsecondary Policy for the Right Reasons

Published may. 10, 2016

If the U.S. is to live up to its history as a land of equality and mobility, we must ensure that our educational systems help the poorest and most disadvantaged students instead of standing in their way. Jobs for the Future’s new inclusive policy framework helps practitioners, policymakers, and advocates identify opportunities to make educational policy inclusive of students who have long been overlooked. Please join us at Voices for Opportunity and Economic Mobility: A Jobs for the Future Summit in New Orleans in June to explore with us how policy and culture shifts can improve outcomes for the 100+ million underserved individuals in our country.

Read on to learn why this change is needed.

Large swaths of our population are still left out of educational opportunities that are critical for economic mobility. Youth who are disengaged from work or school (opportunity youth), justice-involved youth, incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals, and undocumented immigrants remain underrepresented in and underserved by our educational institutions and systems. Collectively, they represent a large percentage of the American workforce, and a disproportionately large percentage of them are people of color.

Postsecondary policy is a powerful lever for increasing underserved populations’ access to economic opportunity. Our new inclusive postsecondary policy framework builds on JFF’s deep expertise in postsecondary state policy, but with an eye toward how policy impacts specific populations rather than students in general.

This policy framework can drive a much-needed culture shift in postsecondary education across four distinct areas:

  • A culture of postsecondary completion: Many of the programs and systems that work with underserved populations have made the shift to thinking about postsecondary access, but they have not focused as clearly on completion. Programs must establish expectations that all students will complete their postsecondary education whether by college degree, credential, or certificate programs.
  • A culture of inclusion: It’s time to rethink our assumptions about who postsecondary institutions are designed to serve. Our existing systems and structures often send tacit messages about who is—and is not—considered college material. We need to subvert those messages and make it clear that students currently underrepresented in postsecondary education are in fact welcome at our colleges and universities. 
  • A culture of inquiry: We must ask the difficult questions about who is succeeding in our existing programs, institutions, and systems, and who is not. Too often, student outcome data in the aggregate masks persistent achievement gaps facing specific populations. To uncover and address those gaps, we should disaggregate data by race and ethnicity, immigration status, history of justice involvement, and other markers of historically underserved populations.
  • A culture of collaboration: As colleges aim to serve a more diverse population, they must recognize that they can’t do everything on their own, nor do they need to. Rather, colleges should tap into their partners’ expertise and capacity. Stronger webs of collaboration across multiple partners can support underserved Americans’ success in postsecondary education and beyond. 

We will continue this critical conversation in New Orleans next month. We hope you can participate.

Photo courtesy Jake Ingle