The Fallacy of Higher Education as the Great Social Equalizer: Racial Identity, Implicit Bias, and Achievement

The Fallacy of Higher Education as the Great Social Equalizer: Racial Identity, Implicit Bias, and Achievement

Sally Zengaro, Raquel Warley
Copyright: © 2022 |Pages: 26
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-9567-1.ch003
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This chapter addresses issues of race and social identity that can affect the academic success and educational attainment of students from various backgrounds, races, and ethnicities. It begins with a description of the historical view of higher education with a focus on underrepresented populations and the effect of lasting discriminatory practices. Next, this chapter examines the role of stereotype threat, implicit bias, and teacher expectations on student achievement. It concludes with workable solutions and recommendations for the classroom. The chapter asserts that teacher expectations have a powerful influence on students' thoughts, behaviors, and ultimate success in school.
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Since the new millennium, undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate enrollment among Black & Hispanic students in the United States has increased (de Brey et al., 2019). Notwithstanding, completion rates vary significantly by race and ethnicity. Numerous investigations in connection with differences in educational attainment between learners from diverse cultural backgrounds show that the achievement gap is much larger for African American and Latino students compared to their white and Asian counterparts (see Dittmann & Stephens, 2017; Oyserman & Lewis, 2017).

Educational literature conclusively shows that Black students are disproportionately at higher risk for poor academic performance and coming up against negative school experiences even by comparison to marginalized Latino pupils (see Espinosa et al., 2019). For instance, of racially minoritized undergraduates seeking a bachelor’s degree, evidence reveals that four- and six-year completion rates are higher for Hispanic students (54%) than it is for Black enrollees (40%) (Law et al., 2020). As well, graduation rates for Black students are about 20 percentage points lower than that of White students, in contrast to 10 percentage points between Hispanic students & White counterparts. As Espinosa et al. (2019) point out,

Too many Black students fare poorly in America’s postsecondary education system. At both the undergraduate and graduate levels, advances in Black students’ enrollment and attainment have been accompanied by some of the lowest persistence rates, highest undergraduate dropout rates, highest borrowing rates, and largest debt burdens of any group. (p. XIV)

Among students from minority communities who do not complete their college education, the majority are from low socioeconomic backgrounds and the first in their family to attend a degree-granting postsecondary institution (Espinosa et al., 2019). Higher education attrition for these students has been explained by financial hardship as well as academic and other non-academic challenges. Many universities and colleges in the United States have implemented interventions aimed at reducing racial-ethnic performance gaps. The objectives of these educational initiatives have been to increase college access, improve persistence and retention rates, expand student participation in the academic community outside the realm of classroom curricula, and grow the percentage of low-income students and students of color who graduate their programs.

Although college completion rates for Black students remain low, the four- and six-year completion rates among this population have improved at both public and private colleges and universities in the last decade (Espinosa et al., 2019). This trend in educational attainment for Black students would be more encouraging if not for the ongoing and significant Black-White wage and wealth disparities. In the African American community, higher education has been associated with an upward shift in social class. Presumably, attainment of college degrees is a mechanism of social justice, the great social equalizer, and the solution to reducing the Black-White wealth gap in the United States.

Indeed, a college degree is associated with increased earning potential; yet, as Darity and colleagues (2018) found,

At every level of educational attainment, black families’ median wealth is substantially lower than their white counterparts. White households with a bachelor’s degree or post-graduate education (such as with a Ph.D., MD, and JD) are more than three times as wealthy as black households with the same degree attainment. (p. 6)

Key Terms in this Chapter

Microaggressions: The everyday slights or insults that culturally marginalized people experience, which may be intentional or unintentional.

Deficit Narrative: Teaching that explains only the negative parts of history that place a group of people, such as African Americans, as victims of different societal problems instead of presenting a complete history of accomplishments as well.

Pygmalion Effect: When someone’s performance is affected by someone else’s expectations for that person.

Culturally-Relevant Teaching: Teaching students from the perspective of the assets they bring to the classroom instead of focusing on what they lack.

Black History Knowledge (BHK): Knowledge about Black history experience that includes not only instances of racism and prejudice but also the positive accomplishments of African Americans and their shared ancestral history.

Implicit Bias: Associating people with negative stereotypes without being aware of it.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Fulfilling someone’s expectations for their performance.

Relationship-Centered Teaching: Teaching that puts relationships with students at the center of the classroom so that students feel safe, accepted, and free to discuss the issues in their lives.

Stereotype Threat: The threat to someone’s ability to execute a task based on their awareness of a stereotype that exists for their group and the fear of conforming to that stereotype.

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