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Review of 'Accountability and Opportunity in Higher Education: The Civil Rights Dimension'

by Vanessa Peña | Mar 1, 2019

Orfield and Hillman What follows is a review by Vanessa Peña, WISCAPE's project assistant, of Gary Orfield and Nicholas Hillman's ​new book, Accountability and Opportunity in Higher Education: The Civil Rights Dimension. Vanessa is a doctoral student in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at UW-Madison.

In Accountability and Opportunity in Higher Education: The Civil Rights Dimension, Gary Orfield and Nicholas Hillman have gathered leading and emerging scholars to address “the unforeseen impact of accountability standards on students of color and the institutions that disproportionately serve them.” ​Examples of accountability standards include federal and/or state measurements of graduation rates, student retention, and ​other factors, ​which often fail to take into account the diversity and backgrounds of the students ​​a ​college or university serves. A concern is that ​when colleges don't meet mandated standards, they may suddenly ​be at risk of closing or losing ​their accreditation. For example, in many states funding is tied to performance on accountability standards. This volume shows how the institutions most likely to perform poorly on accountability standards disproportionately serve low-income students and students of color, and therefore it argues that these standards may worsen racial inequalities in higher education.

As the federal role transitioned from helping low-income families gain access to college to incentivizing college for all, governments have responded by offering grants, loans, and tax credits to address the skyrocketing cost of college. As a result, the 21st century has seen students increasingly relying on loans and a growing number of students failing to repay their debt, the majority being low-income students. With many arguing there is a lack of response from political leaders to respond to this crisis and invest in the cost of higher education, th​is book is intended to operate at the intersection of accountability and civil rights.

The book highlights how accountability policies reinforce existing racial and economic inequalities​ in higher education. ​For instance, ​though Minority Serving Institutions play an important role supporting students of color, ​these institutions often are negatively impacted by ​existing accountability standards, such as graduation rates. In chapter 6, Anne-Marie Nuñez and Awilda Rodriguez focus on Hispanic-serving institutions​, investigating whether it would be possible to adjust graduation metrics to take into account factors outside the control of ​these institutions. In Chapter 7, Nicholas Hillman illustrates how where students decide to go to college ​depends on ​where they live and the options available to them, and he makes the case that federal and state officials should consider ​the importance of geography in ​determining students' access to educational opportunity.

One strength of the book is that each chapter offers an alternative method in which state and federal policymakers might hold colleges accountable while also dismantling systemic inequalities in our colleges and universities. The book includes the work of leading scholars in the field, emerging scholars, and graduate students who are paving the way and constructing new analytical tools for conceptualizing transformative accountability systems.

Policymakers and researchers interested in higher education finance will find this book as a helpful resource. Additionally, higher education administrators, faculty, and staff will find this book an innovative tool for better understanding the realities of college-going students and the affordability crisis. This book may also serve as an awakening for parents of college-goers who are personally invested in the student debt crisis.

About the co-editors:

Gary Orfield is a ​distinguished ​research ​professor of ​education, ​law, ​political ​science, and ​urban ​planning at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Nicholas Hillman is an associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at UW-Madison and a WISCAPE faculty affiliate.

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