To borrow a frequently used legal phrase, the low educational attainment of minorities in the United States should shock the conscience of America. The most recent Census figures show that 47 percent of white Americans hold at least an associate degree. Degree attainment rates are far lower among other groups: Only 31 percent for African-Americans, 25 percent for American Indians, and 24 percent among Latinos.
None of these numbers is good, particularly in a country that ranks among the wealthiest, and that aspires to world leadership in fairness and opportunity. They also fail to capture the stakes for educational have-nots. We know that college degrees, industry certificates, and other high-quality credentials create economic opportunity and increase social mobility. Two-thirds of new jobs require credentials beyond the high school diploma, and without such credentials, millions of people face a steady decline in their standard of living.
These barriers to opportunity will affect all Americans eventually, as companies and managers continue to endure a workforce shortage numbering in the millions—a shortage that limits the country’s ability to compete in the global economy.
Lumina Foundation is working at this intersection of fairness, education, and opportunity. As the nation’s largest foundation devoted exclusively to higher education, our goal is to help policymakers, institutions, businesses, and others grow the national attainment rate of degrees and other post high-school credentials from 48 percent to 60 percent by 2025. To achieve this level of change, however, all of us who support equity in education need to not only make improving equity and attainment part of our stated goals, but also match our social justice message with a shared economic narrative.
Investing in Racial Equity
Over the past decade, our foundation has invested in racial equity through both grants and impact investing. In response to the racially motivated violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2016, for example, we created the Fund for Racial Justice and Equity. The fund has so far provided 19 grants to colleges and universities working to foster constructive racial dialogue on their campuses. And in 2017, we created the Talent, Innovation and Equity Partnership program. This effort provides grants, research, and other supports to help a select group of states increase college completion. One goal is for these states to provide leadership in this area, particularly in closing gaps in educational attainment linked to race, ethnicity, and income status.
In 2010, we carved out 2 percent of our endowment to invest in fund managers who had expertise in building portfolios of companies that align with Lumina’s mission and deliver market-rate financial returns. We’ve since brought that expertise in house with the creation of Lumina Impact Ventures (LIV). The purpose of LIV is to make direct investments in individual companies that are aligned with our mission and can help accelerate our progress.