Diversity and Democracy

About This Issue - Investing in Student Success: The Equity and Excellence Imperative

The economic troubles of California's state higher education system have sent tremors across the country. California's Master Plan was once considered a blueprint for educational equity. Now, the California system is a test case for the economic challenges facing colleges and universities nationwide. According to 2009 projections, the California State University system alone will need to cut enrollment by 40,000 in 2010-11 (Reed 2009), even as tuition grows by over 30 percent (Hebel 2010). The implications for access and success are alarming, to say the least--and the conditions that caused them are far from limited to California.

Faculty and administrators across the country are acutely aware of how budget reductions have affected their lives: furloughs, obliterated travel funds, reduced course offerings, cuts in departmental spending and even in departments themselves (Chronicle of Higher Education2009). From an employee's perspective, these changes are upsetting and consequential. But for America's college students--who are themselves facing reduced budgets and increased tuition, trends that narrow their paths to economic stability and to democratic participation--they are even more problematic. With the looming possibility that higher education will be less able to serve its students, pleas to "do more with less" take on particular urgency.

The authors in this issue of Diversity & Democracy offer concrete suggestions for how higher education can improve access and success and strengthen learning outcomes despite mounting economic barriers. With a focus on underserved students, the authors challenge colleges and universities to rally their resources and strengthen their resolve to give students the support they need in these challenging times. Some offer suggestions specifically aimed at stretching thin budgets; others share program, policy, or pedagogical models that apply more generally to the challenge of bolstering student success. In all cases, they press higher education to solidify its commitment to equity despite economic constraints.

As Michelle Asha Cooper argues, resources directed toward that commitment should be seen not as expenditures, but as investments: in education, in equity, in "our nation's best future." In this moment of economic constraint, higher education must combine its various resources to collectively ensure a secure future for itself, its students, and the nation at large. Like the ground in California, the economy is bound to be occasionally unstable. But with foresight and commitment, we can build a foundation strong enough to sustain access and success, even in shaky economic times.

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