The country’s issues, reflected in Mississippi


Our Introduction to the Magnolia State

I’ll start this week with a confession. I’ve covered higher ed for two decades, but I haven’t given much thought to Mississippi in that time. (Sara’s another case: she used to cover the state at The Chronicle, was there after Katrina, and is a font of historical bits.)

But expanding our Open Campus network to Mississippi means I get to dive into the issues facing the state and see how they reflect what’s happening across the country. As we start talking with Molly Minta, the new higher-ed reporter at Mississippi Today, our newsroom partner, here are three things that jump out to me:

The U. of Mississippi is really white in a state that is not. And it’s getting worse. Black students have become even more underrepresented since 2000, according to this recent report from Education Trust. In 2017, only 13 percent of the University of Mississippi’s students were Black, compared with 45 percent of the state’s 18-to-24-year-olds.

For-profit colleges play a disproportionate role for Black Mississippians. Last year, Urban Institute released a fascinating look at how racially representative different colleges were based on their potential markets. In Mississippi, the numbers are stark. Black students are wildly overrepresented at for-profit colleges, and substantially underrepresented at the selective public institutions.

Public colleges there increasingly cost poor families a ton of money. This month, the Southern Regional Education Board released reports about college affordability for states across the South. Here’s the Mississippi one. Notably, about a third of students in Mississippi are coming from families earning less than $30,000 a year. (That’s far more than in some other places — in Virginia, for instance, it’s just 15 percent of students.) For that group of families, tuition alone now requires 50 percent of their income, up markedly since 2012. Plus, Mississippi mirrors what we’ve seen in most states over the last decade: tuition dollars now account for substantially more than direct state support in public colleges’ budgets.

Molly’s been on the beat now for just over two weeks. Here’s one thing that she says has been striking so far: “the extent to which community colleges and HBCUs have been erased from the discussion when we talk about higher education here.”

“These schools,” Molly says, “are often thought of as in a category on their own, rather than as simply a piece of the larger conversation.”

Right now she’s working on a story that looks at how the state’s financial aid is distributed among students. Got ideas for Molly and us in Mississippi? Please get in touch.

— Scott Smallwood

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Who’s Missing from College

As the pandemic lingers, concerns are deepening about the long term, and unequal, effects of the educations being interrupted. This week The Washington Post focused on the drops in Latino students enrolling in college— a trend that experts said could erode years of gains.

Some of the worrisome numbers cited in the Post:

  • A 5.4 percent drop in the head count of Latino undergraduates in the fall.
  • A 26.4 percent decline in high school graduates from schools with a high percentage of Black and Latino students going straight to college this year compared with the year before.
  • An 18 percent drop in the number of students at schools with a Latino enrollment of 75 percent or higher who have submitted Free Application for Federal Student Aid forms.

The question of who’s going missing from higher ed is one that our reporters have been examining in their local communities.

In Colorado, Jason Gonzales reported on pronounced declines in first-generation students, whose numbers this fall dropped by 16 percent at the state’s community colleges. The number of Pell Grant-eligible students at those colleges decreased by 14 percent.

At Ohio’s community colleges, Amy Morona found that Black students are some of the most affected. At one college, Cuyahoga Community College, fall enrollment of Black students fell by more than 23 percent.

In Santa Cruz, Calif., where residents are facing the twin crises of the pandemic and major fires, enrollment at the community college there this fall was down by 18 percent, Nick Ibarra reported. Early data on the spring suggests things are only going to get worse.

Cabrillo College officials told Nick that three common themes emerged from surveys taken by students who dropped courses: Economic pressures, especially caused by unemployment; prioritizing caretaking of children who were also remotely learning, or other relatives; and the lack of adequate study space or internet access at home.

Terrence Willett, Cabrillo’s dean of research, planning, and institutional effectiveness, told Nick he hoped people would come back when they could. But his experience suggests that might not be likely.

“It could have been that this was their moment to get that education. Sometimes people have a narrow time window when they can do it, and this is disrupting the time window for a lot of people.”

Spotlight

Morehouse College To Launch Online Program Aimed at Helping Black Men with Some Credits Finish Degree
There are more than 3 million Black men with college credits that never amounted to a degree, according to the Census Bureau. Returning to college can be difficult, and Morehouse wants to help. (www.washingtonpost.com)

Statehouses Renew Scrutiny of Speech at Public Colleges
Blocking professors from teaching social-justice issues. Asking universities how they talk about privilege. Analyzing students’ freedom of expression through regular reports. Meet the new campus-speech issues emerging in Republican-led statehouses across the country. (www.chronicle.com)

Didn’t Get Enough Financial Aid For College? You Can Ask For More Money
The FAFSA uses tax data from two years ago to determine a student’s eligibility for financial aid for college. But if your financial situation has changed since then, there are ways to get more money. (www.npr.org)

Keep in Touch

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