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The State Must Provide: Why America's Colleges Have Always Been Unequal--and How to Set Them Right

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The definitive history of the pervasiveness of racial inequality in American higher education America’s colleges and universities have a shameful secret: they have never given Black people a fair chance to succeed. From its inception, our higher education system was not built on equality or accessibility, but on educating—and prioritizing—white students. Black students have The definitive history of the pervasiveness of racial inequality in American higher education America’s colleges and universities have a shameful secret: they have never given Black people a fair chance to succeed. From its inception, our higher education system was not built on equality or accessibility, but on educating—and prioritizing—white students. Black students have always been an afterthought. While governments and private donors funnel money into majority white schools, historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), and other institutions that have high enrollments of Black students, are struggling to survive, with state legislatures siphoning away federal funds that are legally owed to these schools. In The State Must Provide, Adam Harris reckons with the history of a higher education system that has systematically excluded Black people from its benefits. Harris weaves through the legal, social, and political obstacles erected to block equitable education in the United States, studying the Black Americans who fought their way to an education, pivotal Supreme Court cases like Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. Board of Education, and the government’s role in creating and upholding a segregated education system. He explores the role that Civil War–era legislation intended to bring agricultural education to the masses had in creating the HBCUs that have played such a major part in educating Black students when other state and private institutions refused to accept them. The State Must Provide is the definitive chronicle of higher education’s failed attempts at equality and the long road still in front of us to remedy centuries of racial discrimination—and poses a daring solution to help solve the underfunding of HBCUs. Told through a vivid cast of characters, The State Must Provide examines what happened before and after schools were supposedly integrated in the twentieth century, and why higher education remains broken to this day. 


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The definitive history of the pervasiveness of racial inequality in American higher education America’s colleges and universities have a shameful secret: they have never given Black people a fair chance to succeed. From its inception, our higher education system was not built on equality or accessibility, but on educating—and prioritizing—white students. Black students have The definitive history of the pervasiveness of racial inequality in American higher education America’s colleges and universities have a shameful secret: they have never given Black people a fair chance to succeed. From its inception, our higher education system was not built on equality or accessibility, but on educating—and prioritizing—white students. Black students have always been an afterthought. While governments and private donors funnel money into majority white schools, historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), and other institutions that have high enrollments of Black students, are struggling to survive, with state legislatures siphoning away federal funds that are legally owed to these schools. In The State Must Provide, Adam Harris reckons with the history of a higher education system that has systematically excluded Black people from its benefits. Harris weaves through the legal, social, and political obstacles erected to block equitable education in the United States, studying the Black Americans who fought their way to an education, pivotal Supreme Court cases like Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. Board of Education, and the government’s role in creating and upholding a segregated education system. He explores the role that Civil War–era legislation intended to bring agricultural education to the masses had in creating the HBCUs that have played such a major part in educating Black students when other state and private institutions refused to accept them. The State Must Provide is the definitive chronicle of higher education’s failed attempts at equality and the long road still in front of us to remedy centuries of racial discrimination—and poses a daring solution to help solve the underfunding of HBCUs. Told through a vivid cast of characters, The State Must Provide examines what happened before and after schools were supposedly integrated in the twentieth century, and why higher education remains broken to this day. 

30 review for The State Must Provide: Why America's Colleges Have Always Been Unequal--and How to Set Them Right

  1. 4 out of 5

    Mary G.

    Adam Harris takes the reader on a journey through the history of US higher education, paying special attention to the pervasive racism embedded in this system. You've likely heard of Plessy vs. Ferguson and Brown vs. Board of Education, but the lawsuits of various Black plaintiffs seeking higher education have mostly been lost to history. Harris shows the struggle of these men and women and how various states conspired to keep segregation alive despite court decisions telling them they couldn't Adam Harris takes the reader on a journey through the history of US higher education, paying special attention to the pervasive racism embedded in this system. You've likely heard of Plessy vs. Ferguson and Brown vs. Board of Education, but the lawsuits of various Black plaintiffs seeking higher education have mostly been lost to history. Harris shows the struggle of these men and women and how various states conspired to keep segregation alive despite court decisions telling them they couldn't do so. The land grant college system was unequal from the start, and the segregation it permitted only continues today. The beginning of the book discussing the founding of the system was a little dry, but the 2nd and 3rd parts of the book, covering the NAACP lawsuits and the state of the system today were very enlightening and readable. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in inequality and systemic racism, or the history of US universities. Thank you to Ecco for providing an ARC on NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Nhu

    2.5 The writing is a little confusing at times, but all in all the information presented was good and I think this information should be taught in schools to children. I liked three points the book made regarding higher education in the US: 1) (Speaking on affirmative action, and its importance) In order to be color-blind in the future, we must not be color-blind now. 2) (Speaking on affirmative action, and its critics who argue that it puts white students at a disadvantage) It is in the absence o 2.5 The writing is a little confusing at times, but all in all the information presented was good and I think this information should be taught in schools to children. I liked three points the book made regarding higher education in the US: 1) (Speaking on affirmative action, and its importance) In order to be color-blind in the future, we must not be color-blind now. 2) (Speaking on affirmative action, and its critics who argue that it puts white students at a disadvantage) It is in the absence of affirmative action that we lose equal competition in admissions, not the other way around. 3) (Speaking on how to ensure non-white students receive the same quality of education as white students) Federal and state funds should be allocated based on a formula that gives institutions which enroll more non-white students more money. Despite what the title suggests regarding the content of the book, most of it focuses on the history of discrimination in higher education, and only the last few paragraphs actually give recommendations on how to set that "right." But that's ok, I don't expect him to have all the answers and the burden of figuring out how to fix things should not fall solely on him.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Joanne Manaster

    I'm glad this book exists. It's a critical topic that must be highlighted. Additionally, the narrator of the audiobook, Cary Hite, is excellent! I'm glad this book exists. It's a critical topic that must be highlighted. Additionally, the narrator of the audiobook, Cary Hite, is excellent!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Marc

    Harris begins his book from a personal standpoint: attending a Black college (Alabama A&M University) and comparing its grounds and resources to those of nearby University of Alabama in Huntsville. The discrepancy between these two neighboring state schools--one a historically Black college and one a state school largely catering to Whites (and in fact built to maintain segregation)--was tangible evidence that separate has never meant equal. Harris, a staff writer at The Atlantic and previously Harris begins his book from a personal standpoint: attending a Black college (Alabama A&M University) and comparing its grounds and resources to those of nearby University of Alabama in Huntsville. The discrepancy between these two neighboring state schools--one a historically Black college and one a state school largely catering to Whites (and in fact built to maintain segregation)--was tangible evidence that separate has never meant equal. Harris, a staff writer at The Atlantic and previously a reporter for the Chronicle of Higher Education, decided to explore how these discrepancies developed. After this personal introduction, Harris jumps back to 1844 Kentucky and the first attempts in the South to create an integrated college, what is now Berea College. The book is primarily historical as it looks at the challenges Berea faced both legislatively and socially, and then moves into explaining how land-grant universities were developed across the country. Harris shows the ongoing fight to keep many of these universities segregated and how the 14th Amendment and various Supreme Court rulings impacted these attempts from reconstruction to the present day. Harris primarily does this by focusing on individual stories and attempts to integrate by Black students in Oklahoma and Mississippi, using these personal stories to reflect what was occurring nationally. At times these discussions become exceptionally detailed and in the weeds (which is odd given that it's a relatively short book and I'm sure lots of information was removed), but for the most part the compelling nature of these stories make the struggle and impact painfully real. It's still heartbreaking to understand how determined so many people were to maintaining segregation and how often courts at all levels supported these attempts that were clear violations of the law. There are examples of remarkable courage and sacrifice in efforts to allow equal access to education for all Americans, and then Harris shows how this fight for equal access and Supreme Court rulings (notably Bakke) resulted in a turnaround where much of the progress has been lost in recent years, Because the middle section of the book is generally written in a more objective style (though not always), Harris allows legal opinions and statistics to argue his points and demonstrate the inequalities in higher education. Harris returns to a personal writing style for the final chapter where he shows that this is not a historical problem that was resolved with Brown vs. Board of Education, but one that continues through the impact of Covid on Black colleges versus other state schools. He highlights the example of Bennett College--one of only two historically Black women's colleges in the country--as one that lost accreditation due to lack of funding while many schools receive extraordinary support from endowments and the state. Harris closes by arguing passionately and persuasively that the US Government and state universities continue to fail our societies by not providing equal access to higher education for all our citizens. Harris' writing is excellent, the information he covers is critical, he makes persuasive arguments, and he offers sound recommendations to address the concerns he identifies. Despite occasional dry sections, it's a compelling narrative and one that should be addressed by the government at all levels. One hopes this is a step towards making the issue more visible and guiding our country to a more equitable and just educational system. I appreciate NetGalley providing a copy of this book in exchange for an independent review.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Natalie

    The State Must Provide By Adam Harris Mr. Harris provides an interesting point of view about educational opportunities – or the lack thereof – provided by the government for black Americans, especially those attending historically black colleges and universities. He goes into much of the history of higher education in this country and how the many public colleges and universities came into being and the effect of racism on the development of these institutions. While I found the book to contain a l The State Must Provide By Adam Harris Mr. Harris provides an interesting point of view about educational opportunities – or the lack thereof – provided by the government for black Americans, especially those attending historically black colleges and universities. He goes into much of the history of higher education in this country and how the many public colleges and universities came into being and the effect of racism on the development of these institutions. While I found the book to contain a lot of information, I did not always find that Mr. Harris' point of few was entirely accurate. For instance, in the early days of educational development in this country, he seems to gloss over the fact that blacks were not alone in not having access to higher education. He does mention that, in fact, a great percentage of people of all races in America were illiterate. But he does not seem to consider this to be worth dwelling on. There is no denying that slavery and racism have been a black mark on our collective history. However, having government "provide" to fix all previous wrongs opens the door to encouraging a big brother state.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ben

    Reminds me at times of Color of Law and discussing how a lot of state laws acted to keep Black students out of public colleges and also left HBCUs underfunded. The later chapters talking about some of the specific court cases are particularly compelling. My only wish was for more—I would have loved to see a chapter talking about how federal benefits for veterans initially excluded Black veterans and what that meant for options, as well as more recent state funding patterns as other public instit Reminds me at times of Color of Law and discussing how a lot of state laws acted to keep Black students out of public colleges and also left HBCUs underfunded. The later chapters talking about some of the specific court cases are particularly compelling. My only wish was for more—I would have loved to see a chapter talking about how federal benefits for veterans initially excluded Black veterans and what that meant for options, as well as more recent state funding patterns as other public institutions have desegregated. But always best to be left wanting more.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Schultz

    Read if you: Want a thorough take on the inequality of higher education in the US. This is an eye-opening look at the history and need for HBCUs, their current status, and the inequality in funding public HBCUs in contrast with PWIs (predominately white instituttions). Librarians/booksellers: Purchase if contemporary titles on education are popular. Many thanks to Ecco and NetGalley for a digital review copy in exchange for an honest review.

  8. 4 out of 5

    James Schisler

    A really well written, engaging work laying out how the US government, federal and states alike, intentionally and knowingly developed a shadow system of higher education for Black people, and only that after threats and endless lawsuits. Especially strong work walking through the various important court cases that led to the establishment of this system, and the end notes on how it persists today

  9. 4 out of 5

    Chris Roberts

    It works both ways - There is an obligatory line Between love and hate Only because we need it to be there Not because it is needed. Endlessly shaming Anglos So, you're saying, in-between the lines As interpreted by me: Caucasians are so white, it hurts Lost, you lost me at insanity. #poem Chris Roberts, Patron Saint of the Amphibian Peoples It works both ways - There is an obligatory line Between love and hate Only because we need it to be there Not because it is needed. Endlessly shaming Anglos So, you're saying, in-between the lines As interpreted by me: Caucasians are so white, it hurts Lost, you lost me at insanity. #poem Chris Roberts, Patron Saint of the Amphibian Peoples

  10. 5 out of 5

    Dina Samimi

    A lot of under-told history in these pages. Harris retells the great lengths in which states have gone to segregate higher ed, kill affirmative action and drain various funding streams to create a truly inequitable institution of education, not to mention inequitable American lives. Great storytelling. Definitely the most recent book that has made me angry.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    Important, with an engaging hook at the beginning that returns at the end, but that continuity is lost in the middle, so it drags a bit. An important history. I learned a good amount, and I think more people should read it.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    Really excellent book detailing the inequalities that still haunt higher ed in the United States.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Charles Kettering

    Can not wait for the ending Higher education has many problems today and many more will be coming in the next five years, all schools. Can not wait for the next volume.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Andréa

    Note: I accessed a digital review copy of this book through Edelweiss.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Libbye

    I’m pausing this giveaway win for a while, admittedly I haven’t finished. It’s full of detailed info, and I imagine the second half has more recent scenarios. I was especially interested at the cases where I went to school, which I knew really nothing about. It’s very dense. I’d recommend it for anyone who’s looking to learn about race and higher education, history, etc. It’s valuable and really thoroughly researched- I just keep getting distracted by fiction, and the start was slow to me. But, I’m pausing this giveaway win for a while, admittedly I haven’t finished. It’s full of detailed info, and I imagine the second half has more recent scenarios. I was especially interested at the cases where I went to school, which I knew really nothing about. It’s very dense. I’d recommend it for anyone who’s looking to learn about race and higher education, history, etc. It’s valuable and really thoroughly researched- I just keep getting distracted by fiction, and the start was slow to me. But, I believe the later chapters will be even more engaging and I intend to pick up and read from every now and then. It’s not a part of our history I learned about in school. (update: after coming back to it every once and a while I did finish, and I think the last section really does tie everything together back to the current day)

  16. 4 out of 5

    Ginny Summey

  17. 4 out of 5

    MayorEmma

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mark Chimel

  19. 4 out of 5

    Alison Robinson

  20. 5 out of 5

    Caitlin

  21. 4 out of 5

    Marián

  22. 4 out of 5

    Peter Z.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kelly Mae

  24. 5 out of 5

    Leila

  25. 4 out of 5

    Drew Clark

  26. 5 out of 5

    Megan Story

  27. 4 out of 5

    Langston Clark

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Cooper

  29. 5 out of 5

    Robyn Hammontree

  30. 4 out of 5

    Paulina Arendy

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