Affirmative Action Policies 2.0 – 05/26/2023 – Policies and Justice

Affirmative Action Policies 2.0 – 05/26/2023 – Policies and Justice

A decade after the introduction of the Quota Law at federal universities and the expansion of ProUni and FIES to allow low-income students to access private higher education through grants or loans paying only after graduation, where are we in terms of regarding the inclusion of underrepresented groups in this teaching stage?

The figure below, taken from an unpublished study, illustrates recent progress in access to higher education. If until the 2000s virtually no black, brown, indigenous or non-racial man or woman in the 25-29 age group had a higher education degree, in the last 20 years we have seen a strong expansion of access among these groups, reaching 12.2 % among non-white men and 16.1% among non-white women. That said, the figure shows that white men’s and women’s access, which was already much higher in the 2000s, has increased by at least the same magnitude over the last 20 years, preserving the racial gap in access to higher education.

Analyzing the evolution of access by State, and even in the population between 18 and 21 years old (for which these data could change faster), the story is even more dramatic. In Rio de Janeiro, the percentage of non-white women in higher education dropped by 0.5 percentage points between 2010 and 2019. Among non-white men, participation in higher education declined in six states over that period. In Pará, while the percentage of non-white men in higher education dropped by almost 1 pp, that of white men increased by almost 7 pp!

Despite the Quota Law having led to greater participation of non-whites from public schools in federal universities and in courses with the highest return on the job market, as recent studies point out (Mello, 2022, “Affirmative Action, Centralized Admissions and Access of Low-income Students to Higher Education“; Barahona, Dobbin and Otero, 2022, “The Equilibrium Effects of Subsidized Student Loans“), the figure above suggests that reserving places at the public university and financing private higher education was not enough to actually reduce racial disparities in access to higher education as a whole. At the same time, a recent study (Lichand, Perpétuo and Soares, 2023, “An Education Inequity Index“) documented that even when non-white men and women complete higher education, their wage premium is about half that of whites with the same degree.

Designing the second generation of these policies will require understanding the limitations of its 1.0 version, and what other countries that have already gone through this moment are doing right. Scientific evidence has shown that it is not enough to secure the entrance doors to the university, it is also necessary to support students from underrepresented groups in choosing the course and institution, as well as supporting their university journey – often hampered by the invisible curriculum that it is not accessible for those who are the first in the family to attend higher education, including the choice of disciplines, internship guidance, building networks of professional contacts to building a career plan.

Other countries have also sophisticated filters to design these policies – which may have regional peculiarities. Non-white women in the Southeast of the country may need different policies than non-white men in the North and Northeast (and even in different states in the same region).

Brazil has excellent administrative databases linking higher education to future trajectories. It remains to design policies informed by these data to actually support less unequal opportunities.

Editor Michael França requests that each participant in the space “Politics and Justice” of the Sheet suggest a song to the readers. In this text, the one chosen by the quartet was “Cota não é alms”, by Bia Ferreira.

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