Sunday, February 09, 2020

Can 'White Resentment' Help Explain Higher-Ed Cuts? by Eric Kelderman

It would be good to pair this piece with the one I just posted on how school integration isn't happening even when white parents say that they would prefer diverse schools for their children.  In this piece, researchers Taylor and Cantwell found that Republican lawmakers' decisions to fund higher education is similarly impacted by the proportion of enrolled undergraduate white students relative to their minoritized peers.

The paper it titled, "Partisanship, White Racial Resentment, and State Support for Higher Education."

This should concern us all.  Whites, included.

-Angela Valenzuela

Can 'White Resentment' Help Explain 
Higher-Ed Cuts? by Eric Kelderman

Jan 27, 2020
Graduates turn their tassels at the Y. of Georgia' spring commencement in 2019. "Republican
officials may be more skeptical of higher-education funding when the presumed beneficiaries
of government spending are racially diverse, "says a new scholarly paper.
Joshua L. Jones, The Athens Banner-Herald via AP Images

Blunt discussions of racism are increasingly showing up in research of state higher-education issues. A recent study into state appropriations for public colleges is one of a growing number of efforts to try to understand how considerations of race are driving policy decisions.

Take state appropriations, for example. Most studies of the issue rely on the assumption that state lawmakers are seeking to make rational choices in doling out tax dollars. One common explanation is that higher education serves as a sort of “balance wheel” for the state budget: Money for higher education increases in good economic times and decreases when state revenues fall, according to a new paper by Barrett J. Taylor, at the University of North Texas, and Brendan Cantwell, at Michigan State University.
But Taylor and Cantwell eyed instead a more sinister explanation. They suspected that Republican lawmakers, who are overwhelmingly white, would be less generous to an increasingly diverse higher-education landscape. “Republican officials may be more skeptical of higher-education funding when the presumed beneficiaries of government spending are racially diverse,” they posit in their paper, published last week by The Journal of Higher Education.
Cantwell and Taylor looked specifically at places where Republicans controlled both the legislative and executive branches of state government. And they measured how state appropriations differed when the undergraduate enrollment is either more diverse or less diverse than the overall state.
They found that Republican lawmakers were more generous to higher education in places where there was a higher proportion of white students enrolled as undergraduates. “The findings are quite robust,” said Cantwell, an associate professor of educational administration.
People might interpret those results very differently depending on their political leanings, Cantwell said, because the study doesn’t establish that Republican lawmakers are actively choosing to spend less on diverse populations of college students.
Still, the value of this particular paper may be the approach as much as the specific results, said Taylor, an associate professor of counseling and higher education at the University of North Texas.
Most research into higher education has focused on improving practice and policy and assuming that policy makers are acting in good faith. “There’s another part of research that is very comfortable thinking about higher education as part of the culture war,” Taylor said, “and trying to combine those two is relatively new.”

‘To Punish the Opposition’

The researchers looked at two basic variables: state appropriations between 2006, before the Great Recession, until 2015; and the racial diversity of undergraduates at public colleges.
On average, higher-education appropriations were about $220 less per student in states where Republicans controlled state government, the study found. But cuts to higher education were less in those states when white students were overrepresented in public-college enrollments compared with the state’s overall population. And cuts were greater when white students were underrepresented compared with the state.
Importantly, the differences in appropriations were not shown in states with Democratic control of government and overrepresentation of white students, the researchers found.
Though the differences were not large, per student, they were consistent, Cantwell said. “Part of the thing that can be frustrating to people is that our framework was quite big and the findings were quite narrow.”
And the relatively small amounts of money add up when multiplied by the thousands of students that might be enrolled at public colleges in any single state, Taylor said.
Other issues may have affected some of the outcomes, the study says, but they largely point to resentment among white Republican lawmakers against students of color.
“Some political actors might take positions on higher education in an effort to win electoral support by stirring negative partisanship and White resentment,” the authors write. “The consequences for higher education might be irrelevant when policy positions are intended to win votes.”
Those political dynamics have been on display when past Republican governors like Scott Walker, of Wisconsin, or Rick Scott, of Florida, repeatedly questioned the value and purpose of higher education in recent years, Taylor said.

Voters, too, can be culpable for following the lead of elected officials in stirring racial animosity. In the current political environment, Republicans have shown a greater distrust for higher education than Democrats, according to several polls.
At the same time, those white voters are highly interested in sending their own children to college, the study notes, while they also support a policy of disinvesting in higher education, the study notes.
“These voter preferences are not about applied rationality or enduring ideological commitments, but about winning and exercising power in order to punish the opposition even at the expense of self-interest,” the authors write.

A Different Landscape

Considerations of racial disparity and racism aren’t new to higher-education research, but they may be getting more attention. The paper by Taylor and Cantwell came about after discussions they had last year while finishing a book titled Unequal Higher Education: Wealth, Status, and Student Opportunity.
And in recent years, several other papers have sought to explore how negative considerations of race affect higher-education policy, both said. For example, a study by Dominique Baker, an assistant professor of educational leadership at Southern Methodist University, links declining white enrollment at public flagships to an increase in the likelihood of a statewide ban on affirmative action in admissions.
Baker said that the kind of study completed by Taylor and Cantwell “has been happening in smaller pockets” and that there is much more room to advance the understanding of racism in setting policy. But academics have to be willing to call it out by name, she said, and not use proxy measures like income or institutional selectivity to try to understand racism.
Kayla Elliott, senior policy analyst for higher education at the Education Trust, said that research in racism and racial disparities has been happening for quite awhile. But most of it is done by academics at minority-serving institutions who have not had the prestige or support to get more attention for their work.
Elliott said she is less interested in research on the effects of racism and more interested in practical solutions to provide equity in higher education. The Education Trust, for example, released a report this month titled “Hard Truths; Why Only Race-Conscious Policies Can Fix Racism in Higher Education.”
“Instead of calling something new, we can look back on similar trends from the past and learn,” Elliott said.
Andrew Nichols, senior director of higher education research and data analytics at the Education Trust, said one thing that has facilitated more research into racism is that more people of color are being invited to participate in policy discussions in the states.
“In the states we work in, the higher-education policy landscape is very different” than it was a decade ago, he said.
Eric Kelderman writes about money and accountability in higher education, including such areas as state policy, accreditation, and legal affairs. You can find him on Twitter @etkeld, or email him at

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