Jael Kerandi (Photo by Jerusa Nyakundi)

‘Back Our Black Students Now’

“This is not a problem of some other place or some other time. This is happening right here in Minneapolis.”

Jael Kerandi, the student body president at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, had decided to write her university’s leaders the day after George Floyd’s death. In her letter, she demanded that the university immediately end its partnerships with the Minneapolis Police Department. Thousands of people signed on.

“As a land-grant institution, statements professing appreciation of diversity and inclusion are empty and worthless if they are not backed up by action,” Kerandi wrote. “A man was murdered. It is our job as an institution to exert whatever pressure we can to keep our students safe and demand justice in our city and state.”

The next day, the university’s president announced she was limiting ties with Minneapolis police, no longer contracting with them for support at large events or using them for specialized services.

Kerandi, the university’s first black student body president, hopes her actions inspire people — to act on their values and to hold others accountable, too. This has been “very emotionally taxing,” Kerandi told me this week. “Every day is hard.”

But she’s been encouraged by how many community members have stepped up and by how many students at colleges across the country have contacted her as they push for change, too.

Higher ed, Kerandi says, needs to do more to fight racism and support students. Here’s what she emphasizes:

Public universities are public servants. It’s their duty to educate students, to keep them safe, and to not affiliate with people who are directly contradicting those values, she says. Sometimes, it seems like universities lose sight of these fundamentals — they get caught up in hierarchies, in nuances, in internal discussions about who makes which decisions. But there are clear actions to take.

“Safety includes trust,” Kerandi says. “Students on this campus have been walking around in fear of the police.” That not only threatens safety, she says, it compromises learning.

You have to back our black students now. “Unfortunately, this is not a new norm for black students,” Kerandi says. “This is a wake-up call.” Racism is embedded in the system. You see it in who is accelerated and who is not accelerated in school, she says. You see it in words like “average” and “mediocre.” Who’s being told they’re just “right in the middle”? Those students will start to aim for that.

“We talk about higher education being this transformative experience and its ability for you to transform your life and move an income class or move your socioeconomic status,” Kerandi recently told The Lily, “but we’re having students, especially students of color and underrepresented students, come to universities and not be set up for success.”

So what do colleges need to do? More. More to support students both earlier and later in their lives, she told me. Help make sure students are starting to prepare for college well before high school. Support them when they get to campus; too often, they feel left on their own. Be involved in what happens after graduation. Help them get internships, educate them about personal finance.

“They should be leaving college with the ability to go up an income class,” she says. When they’re not? “At that point the institution failed, the student did not fail.”

Live your values. “It’s so important to recognize that diversity is not just a word … not just a word on paper and that we get to put on a website,” Kerandi says. “It’s action.”

Uphold the values and ethics you put in your mission statement. Make students your priority, not external donors or local government officials. This needs to start at the top. And this is not just a fight for black students or for brown students or for black and brown faculty, Kerandi says. “It’s a fight for everyone.”

— Sara Hebel

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Racial Divides and Liberal Bastions

Among the calls for change — from students, from college leaders — comes a reminder about just how segregated we are as a nation. And about how the bubbles we live in reflect, and contribute to, racial divides in who gets a degree in America.

We need to examine those bubbles, and challenge our own thinking, Colleen Campbell wrote in a Twitter thread this week. Campbell, who now works at the Federal Student Aid office of the U.S. Education Department, resurfaced her findings in “Those Left Behind.” It’s a project about the gaps in college attainment by race and geography that she produced last year when she was at the Center for American Progress.

“It was about highlighting how elite colleges (probably your school, reader) don’t serve the communities around them,” Campbell continued. “It was about how we can’t expect a student to make a ‘good decision’ to go to a ‘good school’ when it’s hours away from everything and everyone they’ve known.

“Look at the map,” she said. “See how segregated your community and our country is. Reflect on how many times you’ve attended paternalistic conversations about the ‘choices’ of low income students of color and how we can ‘improve’ those choices. Ask how you’re changing this narrative.”

About That At-Home SAT? Forget It For Now.

The College Board announced this week that it would “pause” its efforts to offer an at-home SAT this year. “Taking it would require three hours of uninterrupted, video-quality internet for each student, which can’t be guaranteed for all,” the board said.

David Coleman, the College Board’s chief executive, said it was asking colleges “to be flexible toward students who can’t submit scores, who submit that later, or who did not have a chance to test more than once.”

The question, of course, is whether that “flexibility” is going to further erode standardized tests’ role in college admissions. Dartmouth College and the University of Virginia announced this week they would be test optional for the next admissions cycle, and the University of California decided last month to phase out the SAT and ACT at the nation’s premier public university system.

[As a reminder we’ll just leave you with this chart we’ve used before. Makes you wonder if maybe the inequities are around more than just “three hours of uninterrupted, video-quality internet.”]
Parental income among high SAT scorers

Elsewhere on Open Campus

Karin Fischer, who writes latitude(s), our newsletter about global higher education, held a live chat on Thursday with readers about the future of optional practical training. OPT allows foreign students to work in the U.S. for at least a year after graduation. The Trump administration is reportedly considering new restrictions on the program.

Jeff Selingo’s most recent Next newsletter focused on what’s at stake for high-school juniors. Plus, he’s offering tips for the college search and limited access to an online webinar to people who pre-order his book, Who Gets In and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions.

In Colorado, Jason Gonzales of our partner Chalkbeat, wrote about the state’s shift to performance-based funding. Leaders there say the change to the state funding formula will encourage colleges to provide money for the neediest students.

Keep in Touch

We’re continuing to track what’s happening with higher ed budgets in every state. Send us updates about what’s happening where you are.

Share your feedback and ideas. Let us know what kinds of stories, data, and information would help you navigate this time.

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