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By India Heckstall

In 1954, the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education declared racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional, marking a pivotal moment in the struggle for civil rights in the United States. While this decision was a crucial step toward equality in education, its promise remains unfulfilled.

Despite significant progress in expanding opportunity to Black Americans since Brown, K-12 school districts remain deeply segregated and unequally resourced. Racial disparities in access to college preparatory coursework and discriminatory admissions practices persist. Black and Latino students’ college completion rates are behind those of white students. And segregation remains a reality in higher education, with declining representation of Black students at selective universities even before the 2023 Supreme Court decision banning affirmative action in college admissions.

On the 70th anniversary of the Brown decision, it is important to consider its legacy in the aftermath of last year’s Students for Fair Admission (SFFA) v. Harvard and SFFA v. University of North Carolina. The SFFA ruling declared that holistic admission policies explicitly considering race were a violation of the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.

The litigation was the culmination of a decades-long battle fought in both the courts and the ballot box to dismantle race-conscious admissions policies in higher education.

Notably, both sides in the debate over the constitutionality of affirmative action and school integration evoke Brown to justify their positions, but to very different ends. Brown itself hinged upon the 14th Amendment. NAACP Legal Defense Fund lawyers built their case on proving that segregation of Black children into separate and inferior schools, a requirement of the Jim Crow era, violated their rights to equal protection.

Unfortunately, affirmative action opponents—including SFFA and the court’s conservative majority—have weaponized Brown to support their view that the Constitution will only allow race-neutral policies to undo past racial harm. Advocates call this a perverse reading of Brown, which catalyzed the broader effort to desegregate housing, employment, and public accommodations. Alongside major civil rights legislation that outlawed discrimination and efforts by colleges to diversify and integrate their campuses, Brown kicked open the door to postsecondary education for Black Americans, who had been systemically excluded for more than two centuries.

Yet paying homage to Brown should not prevent us from acknowledging its limitations. Despite his optimism, NAACP lawyer who argued the case and future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall’s prediction that schools would desegregate within five years never came to pass. Efforts to racially integrate schools encountered massive resistance in the South and in Northern cities that attempted busing. What advocates may not have fully grasped at the time were the systemic discrimination and racial biases embedded in K-12 and higher education that would play out over the decades and blunt Brown’s impact.

The Johnson Administration realized that desegregation and other policies built on the principle of equality under the law would be insufficient to produce racial equality. As President Johnson noted in his 1965 Howard University commencement speech, affirmative action recognizes that “it is not enough to open the gates or opportunity”—it was necessary to ensure “all citizens…have the ability to walk through those gates.” True racial justice was not just “equality as a right…but equality as a result.” As Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson wrote in her SFFA dissent, “[d]eeming race irrelevant in law does not make it so in life.”

As a race-conscious policy, affirmative action in college admissions worked. By equalizing access to education and upward mobility, these programs more than doubled the share of Black undergraduates from 1965 to 1998, better reflecting America’s racial diversity. Data has also shown what happens when affirmative action ends: Black student enrollment plummets, as it did in California and Michigan after state bans went into effect.

Since the 2020 racial justice protests and the SFFA decision, advocates and researchers have become more vocal about articulating a view Johnson expressed so many years ago: policies that are race-neutral in theory are rarely so in practice. They fail to account for the structural inequities built into our institutions and the compounded disadvantages experienced by communities of color. From the New Deal to the Great Society, race-neutral policies led to worse outcomes for Black people in either their design or implementation.

Predictably, the SFFA ruling has also unleashed an ugly backlash against all programs intended to level the playing field between Black and white Americans, including initiatives to create more diverse, equitable and inclusive environments in K-12, higher education, and the workplace. Research has shown that diversity, equity, and inclusion programs and racially integrated schools not only boost outcomes for students of color, but also prepare all students to compete in a multicultural, globalized economy.

The headwinds facing racial justice advocates will grow stronger during this election year in our historically polarized country. As we reflect on Brown’s legacy, we must confront the reality that educational equity remains an elusive goal. Race-conscious policies and programs must be essential tools in our fight. To deliver on Brown’s moral vision, we must redouble our efforts to dismantle systemic barriers by acknowledging and honoring our racial differences—not pretending they don’t exist.

A Black History Month Reflection on Key Leaders in the Fight for Civil Rights

As we approach the closing days of Black History Month, now is a good time to reflect on the memories and positive stories associated with the 60th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. But the work started by many of those we honor this month is far from over.

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Cash Assistance is a Critical Part of Reproductive Justice

The conversation on reproductive justice has been front and center in many spaces following the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision. Many advocates, organizers, and policymakers have united across issue areas to support reproductive rights—specifically access to safe, affordable, and accessible abortion. However, economic insecurity and poverty are incompatible with reproductive justice.

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Challenges to Just and Effective 988 Implementation

Youth and young adults currently face an unprecedented mental and behavioral health crisis that has led to an increase in youth suicide rates, mental and behavioral health concerns, and disconnection from school and work. This series of fact sheets explores the challenges and missed opportunities to effectively implement the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and transform our country’s existing mental and behavioral health crisis response system.

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Making USDA More Equitable

In 2022 Elizabeth Lower-Basch was appointed to serve on the USDA Equity Commission, which released its final report today at a meeting where she served as a panelist. In a blog, Elizabeth shares her reflections on the Commission’s work and its 66 recommendations for improving equity in the USDA’s many policies, practices, and programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

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This new report examines the pivotal role of Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs) in addressing the educational needs of students of color, particularly Black immigrants, amid systemic inequities in postsecondary education.

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CLASP in the News & Partner Blogs


Why we need to rethink the term “student-athlete”


Op Ed: SCOTUS Ruling Disproportionately Impacts Opportunities for Black Males

Upcoming Events

February 28: Christian Collins will give a virtual guest lecture to graduate students in the Sports Administration program at UNC-Chapel Hill on his Equal Play, Unequal Pay report. The lecture will also focus on the unique ways that college athletics and public policy intersect.

Recent Events

February 22: Isha Weerasinghe presented to a cohort of 13 state legislators who are part of the Future Caucus on the importance of addressing maternal mental health.

February 13: The Biden-Harris Administration brought together nearly 90 young people from across the nation for the first-ever interagency Youth Policy Summit: Cultivating Possibilities. New Deal for Youth Changemakers and members of CLASP staff served on the youth planning committee, helped with preparation, moderated panels and discussions, and attended the event.


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By India Heckstall, Christian Collins, Felecia Russell, and Melquin Ramos

The report “Fostering Inclusion for Black Immigrant Students at HBCUs” examines the pivotal role of Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs) in addressing the educational needs of students of color, particularly Black immigrants, amid systemic inequities in postsecondary education. Despite facing declining enrollment, HBCUs remain vital for fostering academic success and socioeconomic mobility, especially for Black immigrant students. The report highlights challenges such as declining enrollment, financial barriers, and limited support for immigrant students. It offers policy recommendations that emphasize the importance of auditing admissions policies, building supportive environments, and expanding access to federal financial aid. Collaborative efforts between federal agencies, states, and institutions are crucial to creating inclusive environments and removing barriers for Black immigrant students, thus promoting equity and diversity in higher education.

>> Read the full report

By Sapna Mehta

1. Executive Summary

In 2021 and 2022, President Biden signed three critical bills into law—the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), and the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors and Science Act (CHIPS and Science Act). They provide nearly $2 trillion in federal infrastructure, clean energy, and technology funding with the potential to create millions of good jobs in local communities. Together they have the potential to revitalize the U.S. labor market and pave the way toward diversifying a range of occupations and industries. These laws stand to modernize and enhance the transportation, energy, clean water, and digital sectors by directing significant funds toward these efforts.

These laws stand to modernize and enhance the transportation, energy, clean water, and digital sectors by directing significant funds toward these efforts.

These measures hold promise to increase economic opportunity and security for workers with low incomes, people of color, and women. Yet jobs in many of the industries experiencing investment are disproportionately held by white men. Turning these investments into high-quality jobs for women, people of color, and persons with low incomes will require intentional efforts to address their severe underrepresentation in the industries where federal investments are flowing.

In this report, the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) aims to support national, state, and community leaders and advocates in navigating these laws by:

To make certain that women and people of color can access and remain in the jobs being created through these new public investments, advocates can look to existing successes in advancing workforce training, including registered apprenticeship programs and sector-based strategies discussed later in this report. They can also work with the public and private sectors to develop Project Labor Agreements and Community Benefits Agreements on new projects to create equitable training pipelines for local workers, ensure the jobs created pay family-sustaining wages, and include robust labor protections.

Producing equitable outcomes will require elected leaders, advocates, workforce practitioners, and the private sector to work closely together to ensure equitable, effective, and responsive workforce development programs and pipelines to recruit, train, hire, and retain women and people of color. This includes creating access to supportive services, like funding for tools, child care, and transportation, all of which are necessary for successful job training completion and retention.

Throughout this report, CLASP spotlights state and local policy and program examples. The report also shares guidance from the federal government and resources from partners. Appendices at the end offer links to additional federal and partner resources.

2. Introduction

Over the next decade, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), and Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors and Science Act (CHIPS and Science Act) aim to invest nearly $2 trillion to repair, rebuild, and modernize the nation’s infrastructure along with its energy and technology production capabilities. These investments hold promise to increase economic opportunity and security for workers with low incomes, people of color, and women.

Yet jobs in these industries are disproportionately held by white men. While women hold 11 percent of jobs in the construction industry, they are most frequently found in administrative roles, which make up a small percentage of overall jobs in the industry. [1] The Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that women hold just 4 percent of the jobs in construction trades—jobs like carpenters, electricians, pipefitters, and painters. [2]

The construction industry remains predominantly white, [3] and racial and gender disparities compound inequities for Black, Latina, and Afro-Latina women. Women who hold these jobs face rampant workplace harassment. Nearly a quarter of women who work in the construction trades report frequent sexual harassment. Additionally, 21 percent of women of color report they frequently face racial harassment. [4]

Without deliberate efforts, these inequities will persist. The National Partnership for Women and Families estimates that, if nothing changes, women will access only 29 percent of new jobs created by IIJA. Racial disparities are even more stark, with data projecting that:

At the same time, without thoughtful planning now, states, localities, and private companies may begin new projects only to discover they can’t find workers with the training needed to fill the new jobs. McKinsey & Company estimates that without additional investment in worker education and training, companies across industries will face a shortfall of 300,000 engineers and 90,000 technicians by the end of the decade. [6] The public and private sectors can collaborate with the workforce system, labor unions, and worker organizations to cultivate the workforce needed to make the United States more competitive and resilient and meet national security goals.

Attaining this workforce is possible through the development of robust, equitable, and accessible training, hiring, and retention pipelines. The IIJA, IRA and CHIPS and Science Act, collectively referred to in this paper as “the infrastructure laws,” incentivize the development of training plans and encourage partnerships among local and state governments, employers, labor unions, community groups, and workforce training providers like community colleges. Successful implementation of the infrastructure laws will require strategic coordination and alignment across these entities.

Advocacy is crucial to promoting equity and progress and to reversing years of systemic misogyny and racism in many of the industries receiving federal investment, the labor market, and beyond. Only when local and state advocates, community groups, worker centers, and labor unions engage local and state governments, workforce entities, and employers will the nation ensure that women and people of color access the new jobs created through investments from the IIJA, IRA and CHIPS and Science Act.

3. Overview of Recent Federal Legislation

The IIJA, also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), authorizes $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years to rebuild roads, bridges, and public transportation systems; support advanced energy technologies and clean water infrastructure; close the digital divide; and modernize the electric grid. [7] The law is estimated to create more than 700,000 jobs per year over the next 10 years. [8]

Provisions in the legislation, punctuated with additional White House guidance, enable federal agencies to implement IIJA by supporting—and often preferencing—good quality jobs with labor protections and equitable workforce training. A number of programs also have set asides for disadvantaged communities, which are discussed later in this paper.

Most construction projects are subject to wage standards under two federal laws known as the Davis-Bacon Act [9] and the Davis-Bacon and Related Acts. [10] Together, these laws require all federal and federally assisted construction projects to pay workers the prevailing wage. The Wage and Hour Division of U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) conducts surveys of local labor markets to determine prevailing wage rates. These rates are typically set to reflect the market wage for a given type of work in a given area. The prevailing wage rate reflects both the hourly wage rate and fringe benefits. It establishes a wage floor, meaning that all contractors on a project must pay at or above this rate. [11]

IIJA funds will flow through eight federal agencies largely to states, tribes, and municipalities. They will also go to
nonprofits, labor organizations, community colleges, institutions of higher education, other nonprofit training and
educational institutions, public works departments, and private for-profit companies. Federal agencies will make
these funds available through grants, loans, loan guarantees, cooperative agreements,* and tax incentives.

*Cooperative agreements facilitate the transfer of something of value from federal executive agencies to states, local governments, and private recipients for a public benefit. While similar to grants, they include substantial involvement between the federal awarding agency and the recipient.

>>View the full report

Note: This publication was updated on December 18, 2023.

By Katherine Knott, Inside Higher Ed


Some committee members pointed out how student loan debt disproportionately impacts Black families and exacerbates inequities. “Pursuing higher education can negatively impact Black families’ wealth because of the debt burden,” said India Heckstall with the Center for Law and Social Policy, a nonprofit, and a negotiator for civil rights organizations.

Read the full article here.

The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) is grateful for the opportunity to submit this statement for the record to the House Subcommittee on Higher Education and the Workforce. CLASP is a national, nonpartisan, nonprofit advancing anti-poverty policy solutions that disrupt structural and systemic racism and sexism and remove barriers blocking people from economic security and opportunity. We advocate for federal, state, and local policies to strengthen families and create pathways to education and work. CLASP has deep expertise on a wide range of issue areas such as childcare and early education, youth policy, job quality, income and work supports, workforce development, postsecondary education, immigration and cross-cutting issues like mental health, racial equity, and criminal justice. CLASP works to amplify the voices of directly impacted workers and families and help public officials design and implement effective programs.


>> Read full statement for the record

By Madison Trice

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court’s Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) v. Harvard College ruling held that affirmative action violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. The decision claims that considering race in holistic admissions is a “zero-sum game…where students compete for a finite number of seats in each school’s entering class,” and that any additional acknowledgment of race will necessarily hurt one race while helping another. This perspective doesn’t reflect the ways that holistic admissions functions. Holistic admissions allow colleges to take race into account as one of many factors that could shape a student’s lived experience. Race is not a positive factor for one race and a negative factor for another. Holistic admissions can intentionally be broadly applied, allowing all students of color to be helped.

Eliminating holistic admissions while preserving legacy admissions won’t just result in a dramatically reduced presence of students of color on campus. This move will also protect advantages conferred on white students. Yet this aspect of the ruling has received less attention.

The retention of legacy admissions, and the advantages they confer, are never negotiated in the fixed pie of opportunity that people of color must compete for. The zero-sum equation is incomplete if systemic advantages to whiteness—white generational wealth, white educational attrition and legacy—are not viewed as a part of the problem. Rather than responding to and reinforcing the confines of a systemically racist educational and economic system, solidarity directs us to this truth: the greater access there is for any underrepresented group, the more all people of color, and the nation as a whole, stand to benefit.

The movement for holistic admissions reflected this truth. I was a witness for the SFFA vs. Harvard trial in the Massachusetts Supreme Court.  The people who showed up on the side of holistic admissions were racially diverse. They represented the diversity of my campus, of our home. In preparing for the trial, I saw student organizers from all racial communities on campus: Asian, white, Indigenous, Black, and Latino. Though I received support from my community outside of the trial itself, with Black students bringing me gifts of food hugs and emotional support, most of the students who testified in favor of affirmative action were Asian American.  My lawyers were Black American and Asian American. At a rally before the Supreme Court building before the verdict, an Asian American alum and I spoke about the importance of holistic admissions. The image SFFA has presented of affirmative action opposition is predominantly Asian American. In fact, 69 percent of Asian American voters support better access to higher education for women and all communities of color. Behind the scenes, the leaders of SFFA have been white. Prior cases have argued that white students were disadvantaged by affirmative action, as with the University of Texas case in 2016. Anti-affirmative action advocates may have shifted their strategy in SFFA v. Harvard, but the heart of the case is the same: white, rich, powerful people pitting Black, Asian, and Latino students against one another for the sake of limiting people of color’s collective access to education.

The Supreme Court’s ruling neglects the potential educational and sociocultural detriments caused by a lack of diversity in higher education. I have been in spaces that were severely lacking in diversity. My time at Harvard, and at CLASP, have been beautiful because both spaces are so diverse. When police brutality occurred on campus, Black students were able to mobilize for change with a diverse cross-section of other students. Conversely, at my very wealthy, predominantly white private high school in the Southwest, affinity groups of color were actively prohibited from forming spaces to meet together. This is because my high school—like the Supreme Court, SFFA, and Ed Blum (the legal activist and founder of SFFA)—recognized that there is power in solidarity and diversity, and that power scared them. That power is limited when people of color aren’t able to be educated in diverse spaces and build coalitions that will widen the paths of opportunity for those who follow.

Using the power of coalition building and solidarity is the best way to secure a diverse future for higher education in spite of the Supreme Court’s ruling. For instance, students at UC Berkeley have mobilized with the student organization Bridges, using their manpower to focus on recruiting students of color in their capacity as individuals. Our policies must respond  by reinforcing the importance of colleges providing spaces for students to articulate and be valued for their diverse experiences in the application process and on campuses. Policy must refuse to engage with the fixed-pie fallacy and instead carve out a broader path to economic and educational opportunity for people of color.

I would like to extend a special acknowledgment to our Emerson Hunger Fellow, Landy Lin, who helped with this blog.

The following statement can be attributed to Indivar Dutta-Gupta, president, and executive director of the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP).

Washington, D.C., June 29, 2023—Today’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn nearly 50 years of precedent—yet again—is ahistorical and harmful to building a multiracial and prosperous democracy. In SFFA v. UNC and Harvard, a 6-3 majority broadly struck down race-conscious higher education admissions as unconstitutional.

Among its many flaws, this ruling fails to appreciate the history of the Constitution’s 14th amendment. Its equal protection clause was widely understood to authorize—not restrict—the sort of race-conscious policies now being struck down.

Holistic, race-conscious admissions policies offer upward economic mobility for Black and brown communities. The Court insists that such policies cannot go on indefinitely. Yet, we are not aware of an expiration date for racism and racial discrimination. As Justice Sotomayor said in her dissent “Ignoring race will not equalize a society that is racially unequal. What was true in the 1860s, and again in 1954, is true today: Equality requires acknowledgment of inequality.”

Today’s decision will make the fight to end poverty in this country, which robs tens of millions of people of their potential, more challenging. Poverty affects a disproportionate share of people of color due to structural, systemic, and institutional racism, including at institutions of higher education. Higher education can be an effective path to economic security and upward social and economic mobility, but the Court today closes that path for many. Going forward, higher education institutions will do more to reproduce racial hierarchies and less to advance equal opportunity.

In turn, our nation’s potential for democratic stability and economic prosperity will be weakened. Sustaining those aims requires the richness that racial equity and diversity bring to higher education, which prepares the vast majority of those who hold significant economic and political power in our nation. Yet, these aims can be realized only by correcting past harms that will otherwise haunt us indefinitely. Because race-neutral efforts in a society rife with racial injustice will inevitably fall short of what our nation’s promises of equality demand, CLASP is committed to working with our partners to reverse the decision and advance effective race-conscious policies to build true unity and undo centuries of harm to communities of color.



By Christian Collins

Accessibility and affordability of postsecondary educational opportunities remain a persistent obstacle preventing millions of Americans and their families from acquiring high-quality employment. Though unlikely to pass through Congress, President Biden’s FY2024 budget strongly signals a priority on increasing accessibility of postsecondary education at community colleges through his administration’s proposed $90 billion over 10 years for universal tuition-free community college. The budget also includes $500 million to implement a new first-dollar grant program that would lay the foundation for free community colleges. Because state-level reforms have a substantially higher likelihood of success, state governments can play an even larger role in increasing both accessibility and affordability of postsecondary education. A highly effective tool available to states is the expansion of dual enrollment programs. 

Dual enrollment is the practice of students enrolling in two separate academic institutions simultaneously, most commonly with high school students taking college courses while still in high school. This practice originated in 1955 when the University of Connecticut began offering collegiate courses at area high schools and has since expanded to 82 percent of public high schools offering some version of dual enrollment.  

Underfunded, but not Underutilized 

Community colleges are the backbone of dual enrollment programs, as roughly 70 percent of all dual enrollment high school students take their courses through community colleges. These programs aren’t just a resource for students seeking access to affordable postsecondary education, they’ve also served to protect the health of community colleges themselves. While community college enrollment rates have continued to drop throughout the last decade, dual enrollment rates have increased. Postsecondary students aged 17 or younger had the only enrollment increases between 2020 and 2022 of any age group in undergraduate education at 9.3 percent, driven by a 12.8 percent increase in enrollment at public 2-year colleges. 

Forty-eight states and the District of Columbia offer state-level dual enrollment programs, but not every program is designed with equity in mind. Of the 88 state-level programs nationwide, 40 require students to contribute at least a portion of their tuition, creating a cost barrier for potential students. Twelve states don’t provide any public funds for dual enrollment programs, leaving students and their families to pay all costs by themselves.  

This funding patchwork has led to inequitable access to dual enrollment opportunities based on race and family income. Nearly 13 percent of white high school students participated in dual enrollment, making them the only racial demographic with a double-digit percentage and more than doubling the rate of Black students. Schools serving higher percentages of students living in poverty offer significantly fewer dual enrollment options compared to schools with lower poverty levels, even when controlling for school size, school type, and school locale. 

Program availability is also limited by cost for under-resourced schools and districts, given that common cost barriers include a lack of available equipment, fewer available staff to facilitate programs, and less physical space to provide courses. Transportation is another cost obstacle to students seeking to enroll in programs, since 24 percent of all dual enrollment students had to commute to college campuses or other high schools to take courses, with this figure rising to as high as 32 percent for students in densely populated areas. The balance of dual enrollment students took their courses either online or at their high school.  

Cost barriers don’t affect just students seeking to dual enroll. The very colleges seeking to develop and implement these programs must grapple with financial issues. Tuition at community colleges for dual enrollment programs—no matter whether paid through public funds or by students themselves—is often offered at a discount compared to regular tuition rates due to state laws. Given that dual enrollment students represent nearly 20 percent of all community college students nationally, and with some states approaching 40 percent representation, that’s a significant revenue stream loss for community colleges. States must counter this shortfall through state-level funding to help ensure the financial sustainability of community colleges providing dual enrollment. Coupled with state governments chronically underfunding community colleges, some institutions don’t have the financial support needed to offer dual enrollment programs.  

Dual Enrollment is Well Worth the Costs 

Dual enrollment programs are arguably the largest available free college program in the country, and they represent a significant opportunity for the continued expansion of accessible and affordable postsecondary education. By contributing to increased income for graduates, helping lower unemployment rates, and generating significantly more tax revenue than they cost to run, community colleges are vital economic mobility lifelines.  

Through its $200 million proposal to create a Career-Connected High Schools initiative that integrates dual enrollment into high schools across the country, the Biden Administration is prioritizing the importance of such opportunities for millions of students. States’ underfunding of community colleges has already led to significant revenue gaps compared to 4-year colleges, and allowing these gaps to persist threatens the sustainability of vital anti-poverty programs like dual enrollment. To truly improve outcomes for the next generation, states must not just match the Biden Administration’s efforts but exceed them. 

On May 2, Indi Dutta-Gupta will speak on a plenary panel focused on postsecondary policy at National Skills Coalition’s 2023 Skills Summit in Washington, D.C.