Raymond E. Crossman
President, Adler University
The spending package currently before Congress is a critical step forward in education but will likely neglect a critical cornerstone of the American education system – graduate education. The budget bill, as it currently stands, would create universal pre-K for three and four-year-olds, make community college tuition-free, and invest in Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, and other minority-serving institutions. Most importantly, there is provision for a long overdue increase in Pell Grants to increase access to undergraduate education. But the package lacks adequate support for students looking to pursue advanced or graduate studies.
Too often, people can’t imagine being able to afford graduate school. Especially Black, Indigenous, and people of color, who have been historically and systematically deprived of educational opportunity. A recent study confirmed that this has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Dreams are left unfulfilled, and our country is left without the graduate sector workforce that will get us through this pandemic, and future crises. Additionally, future administrators who will craft our public health policies, practitioners who will address our burgeoning mental health challenges, and leaders who will help us reshape our workplaces for this new and evolving era often have their career paths thwarted because they are unable to access graduate programs.
As the president of Adler University, a graduate-level university preparing social justice practitioners, I see the lack of access to graduate school as an overlooked and growing crisis. Limited access leads to social and economic disparities, as well as undermines the creation of a workforce to advance social justice.
We want Congress to understand the significance of access to graduate programs and invest in greater access so that Americans across race, gender identity, and socio-economic status can further their education at the highest levels, gain a specific expertise, and advance the health of our communities.
When I entered graduate school, I was the first in my family to pursue graduate study, but I was privileged in multiple ways such that I was able to imagine, compete for, and gain access to tuition remission, a stipend, and a seat in a doctoral program. I learned then, and I see now as a university president, that graduate school expands real-world possibilities for both students and society.
At Adler University, our faculty and students are fierce practitioners of social justice who partner with communities to examine and address the social determinants of health and wellness. From reforming criminal justice systems to advancing mental health, we are committed to moving communities forward, and our curricula train students to have the necessary perspective, innovation, and ability to dedicate themselves to the most pressing issues of our time. It is a tall order, but through graduate education, we are shaping the future.
Although our mission is distinct, graduate programs around the country are built to provide the highest level of education and experience for students. I fear that the final funding allocations set by Congress will not include any investment in graduate education. This has unfortunately been true of funding across the pandemic: the Higher Education Emergency Relief Funding privileged undergraduate and traditional full-time students. I’ll bet too, when we turn our attention to reformation of student loan policy, that undergraduate education will be the focus, while graduate education will be ignored. However, such prioritization is incomplete if we are to break down educational barriers, provide greater access to all levels of education, and provide expertise essential for our most neglected and disadvantaged communities.
The effects of the pandemic cannot be understated. The virus has shown us the fault lines in our society that only education can address. It has also revealed the challenges that require practitioners educated at the highest level.
At Adler University, we believe that our health resides in our community life. In a just society, we are all only as well as the least well among us. Racism and oppression in this nation has been brought into greater relief by this pandemic, and we cannot cherry-pick educational investment. Congress must prioritize opportunities and access for all levels of the educational ladder and for everyone so that we can fully invest in the communities we share.