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Universities strive to end graduation gap for low-income and minority students

Universities strive to end graduation gap for low-income and minority students

From the California State University system's Fall 1999 cohort, 1,750 more students would have graduated had access gaps been halved.


POSTED December 8, 2009 10:04 p.m.
Minority and low-income students have historically had a harder path to and through college, but a new nationwide initiative looks to close that achievement gap.
The new Access to Success Initiative has brought together 24 college systems, including the California State University system, in an effort to halve the gaps in college entry and completion for low-income and minority students by 2015.
In order to achieve the lofty goal, A2S college systems, which represent about 40 percent of students nationwide, are making more information public about student success than ever before. Data released for the A2S program includes students frequently missing from past reporting practices, including part-time, transfer, and low-income students.
“These numbers are much more realistic than what we had traditionally been reporting,” said Charles Reed, Chancellor of the CSU system.
Using the new data, low-income and minority students were found to be under represented in four-year college entrance rates across the 24 A2S systems, when compared to high school graduates from the same populations. A2S projections find that 7,508 additional low-income and minority bachelor’s students would have entered the CSU system in 2005-2006 if access gaps were halved.
According to Reed, the first step to increasing acceptance rates is ensuring low-income and minority students are aware of class requirements to become eligible for a CSU school.
“What I think we have failed in, all of is, is to let students know what is expected and what they have to accomplish to be eligible to go to college,” Reed said.
The CSU system is now beginning outreach to children as young as junior high age, to ensure that all are aware of the arduous requirements.
Even for those who do make it into four-year schools, graduation rates for low-income and minority students were also found to lag across the A2S member systems. Just 45 percent of low-income freshmen graduated in six years, compared to 57 percent of their peers. From the CSU system’s Fall 1999 cohort, 1,750 more students would have graduated had access gaps been halved.
Some systems, including the Louisiana Board of Regents, are taking the creative approach of paying students to take full class loads in order to up graduation rates. Each year of a full schedule earns a 10 percent tuition discount, resulting in a 40 percent discount by senior year.
The graduation gap extends down to the community college system, according to A2S, where many low-income and minority populations are over represented. Just 12 percent of minority students transfer from a community college to a four-year institution within four years, and only half earn their associate’s degrees within six years. Even among those who transfer, only seven percent of minority students earn bachelor’s degrees within 10 years of beginning community college.
Students in the lowest income quartile have just a one in ten chance of earning a college degree, William E. Kirwan, Chancellor of the University System of Maryland said.
If all 24 partner A2S systems were to meet the goals of halving acceptance and graduation gaps, an additional 16,500 would graduate nationwide each year. An additional quarter of a million students would graduate by 2015, if the goal were met today. In the CSU system alone, an additional 3,959 students would have graduated in 2005.
The two-pronged goal won’t be easy to achieve, according to Ed Trust officials, as widening access would likely reduce graduation rates. Conversely, restricting entry to improve graduation rates would reduce access.
According to Kati Haycock, president of A2S partner organization The Education Trust, the voluntary participation of the member higher educational systems in tackling this thorny issue is especially striking in these difficult economic times. While the partnership has been in the works since fall 2007, before many systems were beset by budget woes, none have discontinued their participation in the face of declining revenues. In fact, two more systems have signed up, Haycock noted.
Despite the challenges, the goal of A2S is made even more urgent by President Barack Obama’s recent proclamation that, by 2020, America will have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.
“If Obama is going to reach his goal by 2020 then we have got to continue to work as hard as we can to see these students graduate,” Reed said
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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