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COVID-19 amplifies inequities in education

As of October 1, 2020, it is projected that students in grades 1-12 will have lost between $43,000 and $57,000, or 4% to 5% of their lifetime wage earnings due to an achievement gap. This as an impact of school closures and remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a study by the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Not surprisingly, the gap is wider for students of color and low-income families who are struggling with remote learning. Lack of access to technology and education support from adults continue to amplify an already large student achievement disparity.

In the K-12 sector, according to the Pew Research Center, six out of 10 US parents from low-income families say that their children may face digital obstacles in doing school work. Nearly 29% of low-income families say that their children will have to use a cell phone to do their homework due to lack of access to a computer or internet access.

And as a result of COVID-19, this gap is widening at all points in the education life cycle from K-12 to the higher education sectors in the US. According to an article in Inside Higher Education, initial data suggests that Native American, LatinX and African American students as well as low income families may leave higher education permanently. This at a time when our country desperately needs a skilled workforce to stay competitive!

A recent survey by the Education Trust and the Global Strategy Group showed that 77% of undergraduate students are very worried about staying on track and graduating on time. This fear is higher among Black (84%) and Latino (81%) students.

Universities were a great equalizer for many students. I recall an article early on in the COVID-19 pandemic that showed the picture of a young Caucasian undergraduate who was Zooming into her class from her mansion in Newport juxtaposed against a Latina student dialing in from behind her family’s food truck. No wonder many have taken to neutral backdrops as an attempt at socio-economic anonymity.

Lower income students are 55% more likely than their higher income peers to have delayed graduation due to COVID-19 according to a recent study in the Journal of Public Economics. The survey of 1500 students at Arizona State University showed that 13% of students have already decided to delay graduation, 40% have lost a job, an internship or an offer while 29% of students expect to earn less when they are 35 years of age.

The impact of COVID-19 on education is particularly profound among Black, Latino and Native American students. And, for the first time since the Great Depression, more than half of young adults (18-29) are now living with a parent, says a Brookings Institute study.

It is in the interests of educational institutions, tasked with preparing our workforce of tomorrow, to partner with corporations, who need this workforce for their businesses to stay competitive. These organizations can collaborate to mitigate the increasing student achievement gap for students of color and low-income students.

Here are some proactive measures educational institutions can take in partnership with business to alleviate the inequities:

· Narrow the digital divide by providing access to broadband Internet access for those with school and college-going children who cannot afford it

· Provide adequate software and hardware help so that students can learn with very less interruptions at home

· Every child has a unique learning style and for some online education may not be the best fit. Find out alternate ways in remote education to make sure that all students can learn

· Provide additional support to students who need it in order to ensure that they don’t fall between the cracks

· Check in on the wellbeing of students and provide assistance, especially for mental health concerns

· Stay attuned to student absences and signs of abuse and provide the needed interventions.

· Provide emergency scholarships and other benefits to college students so that they may continue their education with minimal interruption

· Be flexible with work hours for parents, especially women as they juggle their careers, work at home and children’s education

· Ensure that Diversity, Equity & Inclusion programs have a robust presence on college campuses so that students of all identities feel welcome and know that the colleges have adequate resources to support them



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