Higher Education Leaders From State and Across the U.S. Commit to Boost College Access and Success for Low-Income, Minority Students
Goals will result in a 20 percent
increase in the number of low-income and minority graduates
WASHINGTON (December 3, 2009)-Data
released today from the Access to Success (A2S) Initiative show alarming, but
reversible, national trends: Far too few low-income and minority students are enrolling in college, and even fewer make it all the way to
commencement. This comes at a time when every American needs high-level skills to
compete in the increasingly global economy, and when other nations are producing
greater numbers of college graduates.
The 24 public college and university systems
participating in A2S, a project of the
National Association of System Heads (NASH), are taking unprecedented responsibility
for turning the tide and dramatically improving student outcomes on their
campuses. These systems have pledged that by 2015 they will halve the gaps in
college-going and degree completion
that separate low-income students and students of color from others.
According to "Charting a Necessary Path," the baseline
report of the Initiative, the combined data from these systems show:
minority students enroll in and graduate from four-year programs at disproportionately
lower rates than do other high school graduates in their respective states.
colleges-often viewed as the pathway into higher education for many underprepared
students-low-income and minority students are overrepresented in terms of enrollment. However, most of these
students do not transfer to four-year institutions or earn a credential or
degree. As a result, they are underrepresented
among completersA2S systems comprise 378
two-year and four-year campuses in urban, suburban, and rural settings,
enrolling more than three million students. Collectively, these 24 systems
educate almost 40 percent of undergraduates attending public four-year colleges
and universities, so what they do and how well they perform matters a lot-both
to their respective states and to the nation.
A2S leaders are well aware of the challenges they face. They know that while
state investment in public higher education is declining and pressure to become
more selective is mounting, there is no time to waste in making their campuses
work better for the full range of young people in their states.
"Not even budgets cuts the size we
are experiencing in California can justify abandoning our mission to improve
both access and success for students in our systems," said Charles B. Reed,
NASH president and chancellor of the California State University System. "These
students are the lifeblood of our states. Their future is our future. We need
to be ready to reinvest in education."
To produce the educated workforce America needs, the country needs honest data
that tell us where we stand and how much we are improving. Unfortunately, most publicly
reported data on college-going and completion omit large numbers of students.
Transfer and part-time students aren't included in federal data collections,
nor is the progress of low-income students tracked through college. However,
these previously uncounted students account for two-thirds of students in the
A2S Initiative and a similar percentage of higher education enrollments
"Students who aren't counted don't count when policies are debated and
decisions are made," said Jennifer Engle, assistant director of higher
education at The Education Trust and coauthor of the report. "By measuring results
for such nontraditional groups as low-income, transfer, and part-time students,
the A2S metrics provide an unprecedented view of how well institutions are
serving their entire undergraduate enrollment-not just a select few."
Participating systems have agreed on a common set of metrics to evaluate
their progress toward their shared 2015 goal, and NASH has commissioned The
Education Trust to analyze and publish the data. The metrics created for
the Initiative measure the following:
ACCESS: Does a higher education system's entering class reflect the socioeconomic
and racial/ethnic profile of its state's high school graduates?
SUCCESS: How do the success rates of low-income and underrepresented minority
students compare with those of other students within the system?
ACCESS+SUCCESS: Do the system's graduates reflect the diversity of the state's
high school graduates?
Given the broad cross-section of public
higher education represented in the Initiative, the data tell important stories
about how well low-income and minority students are moving into and through
Some A2S systems already have entering classes that are as economically and
racially diverse as their states, or even more so. For example, City University of New York has no income gap among either freshmen or
transfer students. Similarly, entering students at the Tennessee system are more
racially diverse than the state's high school graduates.
Although the data show that A2S institutions typically are more diverse
than other public colleges nationwide, low-income and minority students are
still underrepresented among the systems' entering students and graduates:
In A2S states, underrepresented minorities-African
Americans, Hispanics, and American Indians-account for 36 percent of the A2S
states' young high school graduates. However, just 29 percent of A2S system
freshmen are from these student groups. Although 41 percent of the high school
graduates ages 18-24 are from low-income families, only 30 percent of freshmen
enrolled in A2S systems receive Pell Grants (federal financial aid for
In A2S systems, about 45 percent of low-income and
underrepresented minority students entering as freshmen earn bachelor's degrees
within six years, compared with 57 percent of other students within these
Interestingly, transfer students who receive
Pell Grants graduated at the same rate (60 percent) as other students in A2S
Although two-year colleges serve as important access points to higher
education for many low-income and minority students, the results in terms of success
Within four years of
entry, fewer than one-third of all freshmen entering two-year institutions in
the A2S systems complete either a certificate or an associate's degree or
transfer to a four-year college within the system. For underrepresented
minorities, the success rate is lower (24 percent) than for other students (38
percent). But for students receiving Pell Grants, the success rate (32 percent)
is the same as for other students.
Low transfer rates are a
particular concern. Only 12 percent of underrepresented minority freshmen-and
16 percent of whites and Asians-transfer from two-year colleges into bachelor's
degree programs in the system within four years.
Each of the Access to Success
systems has set its own overall progress targets relative to its own unique
circumstances. But all will hold one another accountable for meeting the collective
goal of cutting by at least half the gaps in college-going and college success
that separate low-income and minority students from other young
Although 80 percent of community college freshmen intend to earn a
bachelor's degree, roughly 7 percent of minority students who enter A2S
community colleges earn bachelor's degrees from system institutions within ten
the achievement gap is not just a competitiveness issue for our nation, it is
also the civil rights issue of our day," said William E. Kirwan, chancellor of
the University System of Maryland. "In an era where a college degree is the
path to a meaningful career and a high quality of life, we simply must make an
affordable higher education readily available to more low income and underrepresented
minority students. That is the goal of this initiative."
Earlier this year, President Obama set a goal for America to
regain the global lead in college-degree attainment by 2020. In no small
measure, our success in meeting this goal-and in helping our once-vital economy
rebound to generate more job opportunities for all Americans-will depend on
higher education leaders taking responsibility for making colleges work better
for all of the students they serve.
"The willingness of the Access to Success leaders to lay out
the facts, even when the story those facts tell might be uncomfortable, signals
a seriousness of purpose rarely seen in higher education," said Kati Haycock,
president of The Education Trust. "The bold work they are committing to do
won't be easy, but these systems are stepping up to do what's right-not just
for the millions of students they educate, but for their states and for our
Access to Success is supported in part by grants from Lumina Foundation for Education and
the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The National Association of System
Heads (NASH) is the association of chief executives of the 52 college and
university systems of public higher education in the United States. The goal of
the organization is to improve the governance of public higher education
The Education Trust
The Education Trust promotes high academic
achievement for all students at all levels-pre-kindergarten through college. We
work alongside parents, educators, and community and business leaders across
the country in transforming schools and colleges into institutions that serve
all students well. Lessons learned in these efforts, together with unflinching
data analyses, shape our state and national policy agendas. Our goal is to
close the gaps in opportunity and achievement that consign far too many young
people-especially those who are African American, Latino, American Indian, or
from low-income families-to lives on the margins of the American mainstream.
Contact: Anne Moultrie