As Prepared For Delivery:
Thank you, James [Kvaal], for the kind introduction. Your key leadership at the Department of Education is ensuring that America’s colleges and universities remain the best in the world—in large part, thanks to their diversity.
Good morning, everyone. It’s wonderful to be here alongside so many administrators, elected officials, advocates, students, researchers, and my colleagues in the Biden-Harris Administration.
I’m really honored to help kick off this important summit to advance equal opportunity in higher education.
For me, higher education was the means to the American Dream.
I attended public schools throughout my life, until law school.
I was proud to attend the University of California at Los Angeles as it was becoming majority-minority.
One of my roommates grew up in a poor neighborhood in Los Angeles; another was the daughter of an ophthalmologist.
We were so different. We learned so much from one another because of our differences.
That’s the power of diversity.
UCLA is one of the best schools for economic mobility.
One study found that nearly 1 in 5 UCLA students come from the bottom 40% of the income distribution, and more than 8% from the bottom 20% of the income distribution. That was a higher share than any other elite university.
That does NOT mean it has sacrificed on talent and ability in the student body.
This meeting is so important because your institutions will shape the leaders of tomorrow.
And it comes at a critical time.
The Supreme Court upended decades of precedent that has enabled America’s colleges to build vibrant, diverse environments.
In the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision on affirmative action, the key question for all of us is whether our colleges and universities will retreat on diversity.
The Biden-Harris Administration is not pulling back on our commitments to racial equity in higher education or in other areas.
The President sent a strong message reaffirming our commitment to racial equity.
Our nation is stronger when we tap into the full range of talent in this nation.
We need you to be part of this fight. We can’t do it without you.
President Biden has a twin commitment to advance racial diversity and economic mobility through our colleges.
In the wake of this disappointing decision, we cannot abandon our focus on diversity.
President Biden knows that America is big enough for all of us to succeed.
Diversity is one of America’s greatest strengths. It remains a core value of our democracy, even as some try to erode that foundational principle.
Colleges can do much more to diversify society’s leaders by ensuring their admissions policies promote equal opportunity.
That’s why the President proposed a new adversity standard.
Under this standard, colleges take into account the adversity a student has overcome when selecting among qualified applicants.
For example, that might mean evaluating: a student’s financial means; where the applicant grew up and went to high school; the particular hardships that a student has faced in life, including racial discrimination.
When a student who grew up in poverty gets the same grades and test scores as a wealthy student whose path has been a lot easier, the kid who faced tougher challenges should be recognized in the admissions process.
Instead, too often the opposite is true.
The so-called “Ivy Plus” colleges are more than twice as likely to admit a student from a high-income family as compared to low- or middle-income families—even when they have comparable SAT/ACT scores.
Let’s be clear: the promise of America rests on a fundamental notion that we are a place of upward mobility.
And integral to that dream has been that colleges are engines of upward mobility.
But too often—and it pains me to say this—they have been institutions of privilege.
Students from the top 1 percent of family incomes in America are 77 times more likely to get into an elite college than one from the bottom 20 percent of family incomes.
Less than one percent of Americans attend the “Ivy Plus” colleges. Yet these 12 schools account for 15% of the people in the top 0.1% of the income distribution.
And they are 60% more likely to be in the top 1% of the income distribution.
Our colleges and universities have a responsibility to create opportunity so every student can reach their potential through education if they so choose.
Our Department of Education is doing its part. For example, the Department is:
Issuing resources that outline lawful admissions practices so they can prepare for the upcoming admissions cycle and support enrolled students from underserved communities.
Producing a report on strategies that lead to more inclusive student bodies.
Increasing transparency with more robust data on admissions and enrollment; and more.
Now, we need colleges and universities to take action.
The Supreme Court’s recent decision provides an enormous challenge.
Yet, we will not let this decision halt our progress on expanding opportunity to education.
We have the opportunity to evaluate and strengthen admissions practices.
To make our colleges the true engines of economic mobility and diversity they can be.
I encourage the university leaders in the audience to consider adopting an adversity standard in your own admissions process, as well as the three prongs I mentioned:
a student’s financial means;
where the applicant grew up and went to high school; and
the particular hardships a student has faced.
One tool has been wrongly taken away, but our responsibility to ensure all students are afforded equal opportunity remains.
Today’s summit is an important step in our efforts to broaden access to higher education.
With that, it is my great pleasure to introduce Merhawi Tesfai, the student regent at my alma mater, UCLA.
Merhawe has a remarkable story. His family fled conflict in Eritrea when he was just five years old. He first arrived at UCLA as a first-generation student transferring from community college.
Now, he is working on his doctorate in social welfare—his fourth degree from UCLA!
Congratulations, Merhawi, on all your accomplishments. And go Bruins!