Secretary of education promotes campus inclusion and diversity

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Photo Credit: Geo Casillas | Daily Texan Staff

U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. released a letter last Friday arguing more work needs to be done by universities to ensure campuses are safe, inclusive and supportive environments, which encourage student success and college completion.

The letter accompanied an 89-page report commending the Obama Administration’s efforts to increase campus diversity and inclusion, and it looked at ways to continue this effort going forward.

“We have far more work left to do — beyond supporting diversity through admissions and enrollment alone — to ensure that our campuses are safe, inclusive, and supportive environments that encourage student success and college completion,” King Jr. said in the letter.

Since the beginning of the Obama Administration, the Department of Education has made it a priority to make college more affordable and
accessible, particularly for low-income students and students of color, according to the report.

The report includes Obama’s overhaul of the Federal Application for Federal Student Aid in 2009, through the elimination of 26 questions and by allowing students to use tax information from two years ago. Educational administration professor Richard Reddick said this made the application much easier to finish.

“Anything that facilitates and streamlines the application process for financial aid is a victory for first-generation college students, who along with low-income students, are the population most in need of federal financial aid,” Reddick said in an email.

The report highlights the administration’s increase of Pell Grant awards and expansions of grant competitions to promote student success.

According to the report, the number of black and Hispanic college students has risen by more than a million since 2008 from the efforts of the administration. It also said the number of Hispanics with bachelor’s degrees has risen by 4 percent. 

The report also provides recommendations on how to keep college affordable for low-income students and students of color, as well as ensuring campuses are safe and inclusive.

“Too often, high school students of color, low-income students, and first-generation students feel that college is a place they do not belong,” the report said. “Colleges and universities can work to make their campuses inclusive, safe, and hospitable environments, where all students feel respected, to help ensure that everyone is able to pursue their educational opportunities to their fullest potential.”

UT President Gregory Fenves said diversity and inclusion are top priorities of his at his State of the University address in September.

“Diversity cannot just be measured in numbers but in assuring that every student has access to all the aspects of a high-quality college education, both on and off the campus,” Fenves said in September. “While we have made progress in overcoming the legacy of past injustices, our efforts must not wane as a society, or as a university.”

Earlier this year, Fenves announced the Diversity Action Plan, which Gregory Vincent, vice president for diversity and community engagement, said will be a blueprint for diversity and inclusion for the University. 

“[The Diversity Action Plan] is meant to bring resources together across campus and to give the University some direction,” Vincent said to The Daily Texan earlier this month.

Leslie Blair, executive director for communications at the division of diversity and community engagement, said the plan should be available for campus review and feedback in January.