New Issue Brief Spotlights De Facto Segregation in Virginia’s Higher Ed System

Higher-Ed Quality & Affordability

April 12, 2021

New Issue Brief Spotlights De Facto Segregation in Virginia’s Higher Ed System

High Averages Mask Deep Economic & Racial Inequities 

WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 12, 2021) — A new issue brief by Education Reform Now highlights the extent to which Virginia’s leading public and private colleges are choosing to grossly under enroll students from working class, low-income, and racial minority backgrounds.

Of the 15 worst public colleges and universities in America on working class and low-income student enrollment, one third are located in Virginia. The University of Virginia, The College of William & Mary, James Madison University, Christopher Newport University, and Virginia Military Institute all rank especially poorly and underperform as compared to peer institutions with similar admissions standards located in other states.

The report also found that while 34% of Virginia 18-24-year-olds are Black or Hispanic, only three of Virginia’s 15 public four-year institutions of higher education enroll Black and Hispanic students at anywhere near a comparable rate—two of which are HBCUs.

Out of over 18,000 Black students that graduate from Virginia high schools each year, the number Washington and Lee enrolls the following fall typically can be counted on one hand. In 2020, there were four. The previous year for which we have data, in 2018, there was only one.

“Federal legislation has been introduced in the U.S. Senate that would challenge wealthy colleges like these to improve or provide financial assistance to other schools doing the access work that these colleges should be doing,” said Michael Dannenberg, vice president for higher education at Education Reform Now. “That concept should be embraced. Good intentions without resources and accountability rarely gets you sufficient results when it comes to genuine opportunity in higher education.”

The brief further notes that in 2019:

  • At the University of Richmond, just 7% of students were Black, which is only marginally better than James Madison University (5%) and Virginia Tech (4.6%). Peers like the University of South Carolina and Ole Miss enroll Black students at rates two to three times higher.
  • Overall, Black male and female postsecondary students in Virginia were three and four times more likely than their white peers to be enrolled in a for-profit college where prices are high and student earning outcomes are low. Hispanic high school graduates are nearly 40% more likely than their white peers to be enrolled in a community college.
  • When compared to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of Virginia has similar high school student grade point averages and similar median SAT and ACT scores, but enrolls roughly half as many Pell Grant recipients, fewer racial minorities, and charges families more in tuition and fee costs.
  • Virginia State and Norfolk State enroll a greater share of Pell Grant eligible students than any other four-year public college in the Commonwealth and over half of all Black bachelor degree-seeking students in Virginia, and yet struggle with limited resources and consequently low graduation rates.

“Frankly, as Virginia comes to further grips with historic injustices and present-day manifestations, the Commonwealth, or at least its wealthiest, largely inaccessible colleges should be thinking about reparations to HBCU institutions like Virginia State and Norfolk State,” Dannenberg recommended. “Justice doesn’t come cheap.”

The Education Reform Now issue brief is the first in a series examining the higher education landscape in Virginia. You can read the full brief here.