Conversations about equity in Raleigh (perhaps in any place) centrally revolve around three categories of equity: opportunity, mobility, and inclusivity. In our community, this manifests itself most clearly through the issues of education, housing affordability, and the countervailing forces of historical segregation and ongoing gentrification. As Raleigh experiences rapid growth, there are myriad benefits to our local economy, existing residents, and new migrants alike. However, we are best able to respond to the challenges created by our particular brand of growth by defining all outcomes of growth – good and bad – with specificity and nuance in an effort to maintain economic success while providing a new model of sharing rewards of such prosperity. Raleigh has the chance to do things differently than cities that came before us. Other writers on this site have taken on the issue of housing affordability already and future writeups will follow address questions specific to historical segregation and ongoing gentrification, in this first primer on equity in Raleigh, education will be the topic du jour.
Opportunity in Raleigh starts, fundamentally, with education. As a historical strongpoint for Raleigh, education provides a foundation on which our City can build an equitable and prosperous future. In fact, Wake County’s school system was recognized in subtitle of the 2009 book on the topic, Hope and Despair in the American City: Why There Are No Bad Schools in Raleigh. Research across numerous studies has shown successful achievement gap closure through policies similar to the socioeconomic diversity approaches taken historically by Wake County, including research by Duke University professor William A. Darity Jr., which noted that while race-focused integration programs tend to perform best at closing gaps caused by historical policies of segregation, “it does appear to have some benefit for student performance.” Unfortunately, the decision to move away from these policies has increased the number of high poverty schools in Wake County by over 150%. Researcher Richard Kahlenberg at the Century Foundation has additionally noted, “If [Wake County] wants to maintain that special status, it needs to take proactive steps to maintain diversity.”
Our city and region more broadly also possess an exceptional higher education system. Much of our economic success and appeal as a region emanates directly from the presence of NCSU, Duke, UNC – Chapel Hill, and our other local universities (Shaw, Meredith, Wake Tech, Saint Augustine’s, Peace, and Campbell Law in Raleigh alone). This asset cannot stand in isolation, however. Seeing our colleges and universities as a critical component in the opportunity pipeline for all Raleighites – especially those who are most disadvantaged – leads us to focus on integration of those institutions more seamlessly into the fabric of the city and our progress. More equitable opportunities for all members of our community in the future will, by necessity, include our college and university ecosystem with an eye towards serving all levels of skill set development in our region. While this is true for many regions in the United States, with the Triangle’s focus on the technology sector as a driver for employment, an adequately educated and digital-ready workforce is even more important. A recent Brookings Institute report indicated that, across the country, jobs requiring low levels of digital skill have decreased from 56% to 30% of employment while high digital skill requirements have increased from 5% to 23% of roles from 2002 to 2016 – undoubtedly a trend even more pronounced in Raleigh. Integrating all segments of our population in the upskilling of our human resources will benefit the city, its residents, and the region as a whole.
Partnering with the outstanding education system already in place offers a glimpse at how maintaining and building on our successes to date will manifest. However, there is already information on the ground that is worth noting. Earlier this year, the Urban Institute released an expansive report on inclusion around the country titled, “Inclusive Recovery in US Cities.” In the supporting analytics deep dives from the report, it was noted that, “In 2013, Raleigh ranked 155 out of 274 cities on overall inclusion, 88 on economic inclusion, and 219 on racial inclusion. From 2000 to 2013, Raleigh’s economic health rank increased from 74 to 49. The city also became less inclusive, falling from 138 to 155 in the overall inclusion rankings.” On a relative basis, Raleigh has not kept up with the pace of inclusion and the effects have shown up in disperate voter behavior from emanating from the diverse sets of perceptions and experiences across the city. Bringing the city and area more closely together in access to the trappings of our success, to the opportunities to take part in our future, and to the table around which we define our direction will connect closely with our education system and will be the foundation on which Raleigh continues to succeed.