Racial gaps a key factor in state efforts to boost educational attainment

While more than 40 states have announced goals for increasing college attainment, many still lack specific targets or policies for shrinking the racial equity gaps that contribute to low achievement numbers, reports Inside Higher Ed. Without prioritizing racial equity, even states with plans to increase overall four-year and associate degree attainment are unlikely to reach their goals.

With this in mind, Indiana is making a concerted effort to close racial equity gaps and ensure 60 percent of adult residents have obtained degrees/certificates by 2025. A recent state progress report shows that six-year graduation rates for Hispanic students increased from 47 percent to 54 percent between 2006 and 2011, while graduation rates for Black students rose from 31 percent to 34 percent. These numbers, however, still fall short of the 64 percent six-year graduation rate among white students in 2011.

“It’s clear to us and most states that there is no way to get to those attainment numbers without dealing with equity issues and closing achievement gaps,” Teresa Lubbers, Indiana’s commissioner for higher education, told Inside Higher Ed.

Equity gaps for Latinx students

In particular, Latinx students’ degree attainment rates lag in many states. Recent reports from the Education Trust indicate that 30.8 percent of Black adults and 22.6 percent of Latinx adults nationally have completed an associate degree or more, compared to 47.1 percent of white adults.

In California, where more than half of K-12 students are Latinx, only 18.3 percent of Latinx adults hold a certificate or degree, representing a 35-percentage-point gap between white and Latinx students’ degree attainment rates.

Colorado, which aims to hit 66 percent adult degree/certificate attainment by 2025, has the second-highest educational attainment rate in the country (55.7 percent) but also one of the largest racial achievement gaps, according to the Lumina Foundation. While 29 percent of Colorado’s Latinx adults now hold a certificate or degree—up from 18 percent in 2012—that still falls well short of the 64 percent attainment rate among white adults in the state.

An August report by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce identifies Latinx student enrollment levels as a key obstacle to—or opportunity for—boosting Colorado’s educational attainment rates. According to the report, only 68 percent of Latinx students graduate high school, compared to 78 percent of Latinx students nationally. Of the Latinx students who do graduate, about 42 percent immediately enroll in college, compared with 63 percent of white high school graduates. Among those who immediately enroll in college, about 24 percent of white students attend out-of-state schools, compared to 12 percent of Latinx students, suggesting that a focus on Latinx students could also help keep more Coloradan students in their home state.

Testing locally, then scaling statewide

Colorado is taking steps at the local level to reduce racial equity gaps. In 2017, the state required all campus presidents to set goals and make plans for fighting inequity; three colleges have started working on their initiatives. Colorado also secured a $500,000 Talent, Innovation, and Equity grant from the Lumina Foundation, which the state has used to create student success classes for 11th and 12th graders, and to train faculty to track student performance at three schools. The next challenge is scaling these efforts statewide.

“If we can be more effective in taking what we’ve learned from pilot [programs] and years of experience and scale that to all institutions using existing dollars, that’s where we’ll find…success,” Amanda DeLaRosa, chief of staff in the Colorado Department of Higher Education, told Inside Higher Ed. “Any equity gap is unacceptable.”

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