Access and Equity for African American Students in Higher Education: A Critical Race Historical Analysis of Policy Efforts

By Harper, Shaun R.; Patton, Lori D. et al. | Journal of Higher Education, July-August 2009 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Access and Equity for African American Students in Higher Education: A Critical Race Historical Analysis of Policy Efforts

Harper, Shaun R., Patton, Lori D., Wooden, Ontario S., Journal of Higher Education

Higher education has been characterized as "one of the greatest hopes for intellectual and civic progress in this country. Yet for many Americans, however, it has been seen as part of the problem rather than the solution" (Boyer, 1997, p. 85). Some have acknowledged that higher education is a public good through which individual participation accrues benefits for the larger society (Institute for Higher Education Policy, 1998; Kezar, Chambers, & Burkhardt, 2005; Lewis & Hearn, 2003). Despite this, recent analyses have confirmed that too few African Americans are offered access to the socioeconomic advantages associated with college degree attainment (Harper, 2006; Perna et al., 2006). In some ways, the recurrent struggle for racial equity is surprising, given the number of policies that have been enacted to close college opportunity gaps between African Americans and their White counterparts at various junctures throughout the history of higher education.

Though presumably for the best, Tyack and Cuban (1995) acknowledge that education policymaking does not always lead to sustainable progress. Much evidence exists to confirm this has been the case with policies created to increase access and ensure equity for African American students in higher education. Such efforts are described in this article. While various scholars have offered insights into the educational histories of African Americans (e.g., Allen & Jewell, 1995; Anderson, 1988; Gasman, 2007; Katz, 1969), comprehensive analyses of the underlying catalysts, low sustainability, and ultimate effects of policy efforts throughout the lifespan of higher education are scarce. This article seeks to fill that void. Policies that have affected participation and degree attainment rates for this population across various time periods are reviewed and discussed below. We juxtapose historically noteworthy progressive steps toward access and equity with recent indicators of backward movement. Implications of these policy shifts are considered and critiqued at the end of the article. But first, the lens through which we analyzed these policies is described in the next section.

Analytical Framework

Critical Race Theory (CRT) is used as an analytical framework in this article. This race-based epistemology is particularly useful here because it provides a lens through which to question, critique, and challenge the manner and methods in which race, white supremacy, supposed meritocracy, and racist ideologies have shaped and undermined policy efforts for African American student participation in higher education. CRT is interdisciplinary in nature, incorporating intellectual traditions and scholarly perspectives from law, sociology, history, ethnic studies, and women's studies to advance and give voice to the ongoing quest for racial justice (Bell, 1987; Delgado & Stefancic, 2001). Solorzano (1998) notes, "A critical race theory in education challenges ahistoricism and the unidisciplinary focus of most analyses, and insists on analyzing race and racism in education by placing them in both a historical and contemporary context using interdisciplinary methods" (p. 123). While no single definition exists for CRT, many scholars agree on the centrality of seven tenets:

1. Racism is a normal part of American life, often lacking the ability to be distinctively recognized, and thus is difficult to eliminate or address (Delgado, 1995; Delgado & Stefancic, 2001; Ladson-Billings, 2000; Solorzano, 1998). Racial microaggressions--"subtle insults (verbal, nonverbal, and/or visual) directed toward people of color, often automatically or unconsciously" (Solorzano, Ceja, & Yosso, 2000, p. 60)--replace more overt demonstrations of racism in most settings. A CRT lens unveils the various forms in which racism continually manifests itself, despite espoused institutional values regarding equity and social justice.

2. CRT rejects the notion of a "colorblind" society.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Access and Equity for African American Students in Higher Education: A Critical Race Historical Analysis of Policy Efforts


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?