Since mid-March, the least resourced students and their families have been most impacted by COVID-19. The Council for Opportunity in Education (COE) Indicators report of 2019 pointed to many alarming statistics when it was published in early spring 2020, including the fact that students who are both low income and First Gen have a 21% college completion rate in six years. The lowest income quartile cites degree attainment at 13% while 62% of the highest/wealthiest quartile attain bachelors degrees. Add to that the 2020 upheaval of employment fallout, the need to leave campus, tech and broadband insecurity, the move to remote learning in the spring semester, the uncertain fall semester landscape, and the revelation of generational racial injustices, and we face the prediction by a McKinsey report issued in June that this already fragile number of diverse graduates is likely to put an entire generation of learners/workers at risk. These promising students constitute our nation’s diverse talent pool, and the circumstances they face with college, learning, the digital divide, mental health, family and financial issues—ranging from challenging to catastrophic—endanger their ability to learn and to access the career pipeline for which they are so sorely needed. Supporting the persistence, tenacity, faith, and endurance that these already at-risk students need at a time like this must be a top priority of policy makers, college leaders, and community and foundation funders. Nothing short of our nation’s educational, emotional and economic viability is at stake.
In the following pages, we document a national snapshot of diverse college students, including many who are first-generation. We show that while these students have the greatest need to be heard and served, their voices are often neither included nor understood, a finding that for this group held fairly consistently across the country and across various types of institutions. We call on leaders at the highest level at all types of institutions across the nation (PWI, Land Grant, Private, State, R1, HBCU’s, HSI’s, MSI’s, community colleges, on-line) to document these patterns by students across institutions, so that the educational leaders have the data necessary to respond to the most at-risk students during and after this crisis in ways that substantively address and promote equity.