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A newsletter about role of higher education in society — plus Open Campus developments.

All eyes are on the Supreme Court as we await race-conscious admissions rulings. And, a look at the cost of attending the University of Pittsburgh.

Preparing for SCOTUS

Perhaps you don’t need another reminder, but just in case: The Supreme Court is poised to rule on two cases involving the consideration of race in college admissions. And with just about a dozen cases left to be decided this term, the decisions could come soon. Maybe even today.

Our local reporters, though, haven’t been waiting to dig into the implications. Amy Morona, at Signal Cleveland, broke down what a ban would mean for the city’s biggest colleges. And WBEZ Chicago’s Lisa Philip explains how we got here and what the debate over affirmative action has meant for Asian Americans.

“A friend of mine actually said that she’s really afraid that our children are going to be seen as the enemy of racial justice and progress rather than really central to that coalition for progress,” researcher and activist OiYan Poon, who is Chinese American, told Lisa.

To be sure, many public universities already don’t consider an applicant’s race in the admissions process. And several states have outright banned the practice. But the rulings still matter. A few things to keep in mind:

  • Half of U.S. adults don’t support colleges considering race in admissions, according to recent data from the Pew Research Center. (And people without a college degree are more likely to disapprove of the practice than those with degrees.)
  • Many universities struggle mightily with diversifying their campuses. And following the Texas ban on DEI offices, experts told Kate McGee at the Texas Tribune that they worry it all “could cement the impression that students of color are not welcome in the state’s higher education institutions and walk back decades of efforts to build more diverse campuses.”
  • Perception matters. As the Washington Post put it last fall, “The stunningly low admission rates for the Ivy League and other prestigious schools make the questions of who gets in and who doesn’t — and, especially, whether the process is fair and legal — a topic of outsize cultural and political importance.”

‘What is the problem with Pitt?’

A University of Pittsburgh bus drops people off by the Cathedral of Learning. (Photo: Stephanie Strasburg/PublicSource)

Emma Folts, at PublicSource, looked at 40 different public research universities to better understand how affordable the University of Pittsburgh is for low-income families. Two key metrics from her story:

  • Pitt is one of the priciest options for in-state families. (Even with financial aid, Pitt charged families earning less than $30,000 a year, on average, just over $15,500 in the 2020–21 academic year, Emma writes.)
  • The poorest students — Pell Grant recipients — make up a smaller share of Pitt’s student body than they do at many of the other universities Emma looked at. (Pitt put its share of Pell students at about 17% for 2020–21. That’s despite the university’s goal to enroll more low-income students.)

“I am somewhat distressed by that Pell number,” James Murphy, deputy director of higher education policy at Education Reform Now, told Emma. “What is the problem with Pitt? Why is it so uniquely positioned in such a way that it shouldn’t be doing as good a job as its peer public institutions?”

Elsewhere on Open Campus

Marcelo Baca, 62, puts on a graduation robe with his son’s help. (Photo: Alisha Jucevic/CalMatters)

From California: During the pandemic, many older, low-income adults had to work “essential” jobs or return to the workforce to support their families. But now, community college leaders hope to draw them back to the classroom, Adam Echelman reports for CalMatters.

  • Adam talked to Marcelo Baca, 62, who started taking noncredit classes last year and hopes to transfer to Cal State Fullerton once he obtains an associate’s degree. “I may be super old, but I don’t care,” he said.

++ Charlotte West, our staff reporter covering prisons, has another story about someone pursuing a degree later in life. Kathy Tyler is 87 years old and has been in prison for nearly five decades. That isn’t stopping her from talking college classes inside. She put it simply: “What would you want me to do, sit around and play cards?”

++ Another story from Adam: Community college leaders are pushing back against the assumption that California is an easy place to be queer in the country’s current political climate.

From Tampa Bay: The Classic Learning Test could become an entrance exam option for the 12 universities in Florida’s state system, Divya Kumar writes at The Tampa Bay Times. (The Board of Governors will make a final decision later this summer. New College of Florida has already adopted the test — and two of its newest trustees serve on the Classical Learning Test board.)

The test is based in the classical education model, which focuses on the “centrality of the Western tradition,” Divya writes. It aligns with a new state law authorizing school districts to begin administering the test and using it to determine eligibility for a state scholarship.

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