Every Texan is an independent public policy organization that uses data and analysis to advocate for solutions that enable Texans of all backgrounds to reach their full potential. We envision a Texas where everyone is healthy, well-educated, and financially secure. To reach this vision, the Legislature must not restrict or cease DEI efforts in higher education. Whether intentional or not, SB 17 signals to students, staff, and faculty that we, as a state, no longer care about serving our diverse population and providing all students and adults, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, and income, an equal right to quality education and a chance to succeed.
Our Stance: We oppose Senate Bill 17 because we believe it is a significant step backward for our higher education institutions. No matter our race, background, or zip code, most Texans believe that schools should be places where students and teachers feel socially and emotionally safe and welcomed and where every student can thrive. To that end, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives address centuries of discrimination in higher education while boosting access and success for all students. DEI statements and efforts in higher education are a reflection of Texan values of fairness and freedom to pursue one’s dreams by committing to recruiting and supporting students and faculty that have been systematically denied access to college degrees and academic careers.
All Texans not only deserve to have access to the resources needed to thrive in their schools, workplaces, and throughout society, but colleges are also legally mandated to do so (as supported by the 14th Amendment, Civil Rights Act, American Disabilities Act, etc.). Practices such as providing inclusive language resources, closed captioning, accessible seating, acknowledging diverse scholars and cultural events are all examples of efforts to increase equity and inclusion on college campuses.
Texas is a diverse state with a population with a wealth of cultural, social, and physical identities that colleges and universities should accept, value, and respect. Over half of Texas’ population is Hispanic, Black, and Asian. Our colleges and universities in Texas serve a student population that is 66% non-White. Nationally, 20% of college students have a disability – although many disabilities go unreported on college and university campuses. Unfortunately, less than a third of students with disabilities graduate from a Texas high school enroll in a Texas college within two years of graduation. Our policymakers must resist policies that do not align with the needs of all Texans. Attacks on policies that are proven to benefit the state and its economy are inconsiderate of our diverse population and the harms that many students have and continue to experience.
Role of DEI: Diversity initiatives ensure that college campuses more accurately reflect the population of Texas, including all the different characteristics that make Texans different from one another. The role of many DEI offices on college campuses is to monitor, create, and implement policies and practices that ensure students and staff from various backgrounds feel welcome, included, respected, and valued. Inclusive and equitable institutions benefit everyone. Diverse representation and inclusive learning environments provide inspiration and aspiration for students to achieve their goals while providing all students with greater cultural awareness and critical thinking skills. Diversity of perspectives from students and faculty with different life experiences produces innovation and a more dynamic academic environment, improving student learning and outcomes across campuses.
If SB 17 is passed DEI programs and offices will:
- Restrict resources for students from underrepresented backgrounds like women, people of color, veterans, people with disabilities, first-generation college students, and low-income families. Religious minorities, students from rural backgrounds, and many others.
- Restrict the intentional efforts and measures that promote fair hiring practices and ensure that applicants and employees are treated fairly.
- Prohibit our research institutions from being applicable for center federal research grants.
- Restrict universities from ensuring that their faculty are equipped with the knowledge and resources to teach our diverse student body.
- Negatively impact job security for DEI employees.
- Decrease the recruitment and enrollment of underserved populations.
We do not live in a post-racial society. The effects of all forms of racism and oppression are still prevalent in our nation and in Texas. For example, even among the top achieving students in Texas, race still factors into which colleges and universities they enroll in. Texas’s top 10% rule guarantees students access to the state’s top-tier universities, but even with the effort to create more equitable admissions policies, universities like UT Austin still fail to meet basic diversity benchmarks for non-Top 10 students. Students admitted to UT Austin outside of the Top 10 Percent Plan are nearly 75% white and Asian, while Hispanic and Black students make up 13% of those admitted students. This is astonishing when 60% of high school graduates are Hispanic and Black. Despite significant state efforts to increase student diversity at our flagship university, white students still have a better chance of getting into UT Austin than their Black and Hispanic counterparts. Twenty-year studies have shown that race-neutral policies do not increase racial diversity without intentional efforts through programs and practices to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Racial disparities also exist within higher education completion levels. In 2015, there were a little over 310,000 Texans who had completed higher education. Since then, annual completion numbers have increased by 12%. However, from 2019 to 2020, there was only a 0.2% increase in the overall number of students who completed a degree or certificate. Students who identified as Black (0.5%), Hispanic (2.9%), and/or “economically disadvantaged” (0.8%) saw a larger increase in certificate and degree completions compared to students overall, despite the onset of the pandemic. However, these groups are still below Texas’ target growth rates due to the daily challenges of systemic racism and oppression. It is impossible for Texas to reach its goals of at least 550,000 students completing a certificate or an associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degree from an institution of higher education in Texas by 2030 – without also ensuring that Black and Hispanic students are completing their programs at a significantly higher rate. The same is said for Texas’ goal of having 60% of Texans ages 35-64 with a degree, certificate, or another high-value postsecondary credential. The work of DEI offices is needed to ensure the academic and economic success of all students, including students of color, low-income students, and non-traditional students.