For years, information about college equity has focused on the admission and graduation rates of Black students rather than their student experiences in between. These statistics fail to capture the many qualitative aspects of a Black student’s lived experience in college. In June 2020, I (Dr. Debra A. Felix, Ph.D., a former Director of Admissions at Columbia University, and Executive Director of Felix Educational Consulting) was at a loss as to how to advise the Black students with whom I was working on the racial climate of campuses they were considering. I knew that many colleges were working hard to become more welcoming and anti-racist, but which were succeeding? I didn’t know. Given that my clients spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and four years of their lives on their college education, it has always been crucial to me that they choose a college at which they will thrive.
Online searches turned up the percentage of Black students on campus, the New York Times Access Index, and a tiny, word-of-mouth list compiled by an educational consultant who asked a few of his colleagues what they thought. Unfortunately, none of these data revealed much about the day-to-day experiences Black students have on our college campuses. I contacted my colleague Dr. Monica E. Randall, Ph.D., Founding Principal of Bridge2College Consulting, who agreed to collaborate to find a way to evaluate the racial climate for Black students at selective private colleges in the U.S. In October 2020, we brought on board Ms. Sydney Montgomery, Esq., Founder of S. Montgomery Admissions Consulting, to add another valuable perspective to our ongoing work.
The three of us decided to collect relevant data that might illuminate which private colleges would make Black students feel most safe, supported, developed, and valued. Because we do not consider a suitable environment for Black students alone to be sufficient, however, we included in our evaluation various measures of the overall strength of each college’s academic programs to ensure our students would get a top-quality education wherever they went.
Thinking it would be great if parents, students, educational consultants, and high school counselors had an easy way to evaluate colleges for Black students both objectively and relative to one another, we decided to calculate a score for each, then list them in an easy-to-understand index we later named the College Equity Index™.
Most rankings and indices in education are based primarily or exclusively on quantitative data, such as admission rate and yield. To assess the lived experience of Black students on campuses, we felt it was crucial to gather qualitative data as well. Fortunately, mainstream and social media now online provided a wealth of reports and a clearer window into the lives of Black college students.
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