Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Gaps in Degree Attainment Remain

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Gaps in Degree Attainment Remain

Article excerpt

The all-too-familiar narrative of racial and ethnic gaps in educational attainment will persist well into the 21st century unless "targeted and tailored" strategies are implemented for various underrepresented groups. That is the message of a forthcoming Educational Testing Service (ETS) report titled "Challenges and Opportunities in Achieving the National Post-secondary Degree Attainment Goals."

The groundbreaking report, authored by Dr. Michael T. Nettles, senior vice president at ETS and chair of the organization's Policy Evaluation & Research Center, or PERC, is the first to disaggregate data in order to forecast precisely when and how various groups within the United States will reach national degree attainment goals set by the Lumina Foundation and federalized under the Obama administration in 2009.

The federal goal calls for 60 percent of Americans between the ages of 25 and 34 to have earned a two- or four-year college degree by 2020. The Lumina goal is similar and calls for 60 percent of Americans ages 25 to 64 to have a post-secondary credential, which could include high-quality certificates, with labor market value by 2025.

The ETS report's findings show that several minority groups will not only fail to reach these educational benchmarks by the target dates, but will fail to do so for many years to come without effective interventions.

"National college attainment goals are a great step towards preparing our country's citizens for the contemporary workforce," says Nettles. "However, known inequities need to be part of the discussion, which is why we included in our investigation college attainment projections by race and gender."

Dr. Stella M. Flores, associate professor of higher education and director of access and equity at the Steinhardt Institute for Higher Education Policy at New York University, says the report is a "necessary acknowledgment and attests to why we need to disaggregate data along an educational continuum that extends into employment sectors to more accurately understand the nature of the problem of underrepresentation."

She adds, "While a focus on employment should not be the only goal for higher education, recognizing it as a necessary incentive and metric in the overall benefits of higher educational attainment is important and now a mainstay of how we look at our progress as a nation."

Although the report criticizes the attainment goals for lacking "specificity about labor market aims and types of higher education degrees," these goals remain. Thus, preventing "these gaps in achievement and attainment from widening" is key. That means "populations that are lagging behind in education and the workforce need to be placed at the heart of efforts to increase degree attainment and college and career readiness," the report explains.

Whether these efforts are successful and these traditionally disadvantaged adult populations remain severely underrepresented is not just a matter of group prestige or bragging rights. Rather, the report calls for a more nuanced approach with initiatives paying greater attention to race and gender groups to thereby avoid exacerbating existing education and employment gaps between diverse cohorts.

The report, using census projections and historical college enrollment data, predicts that the nation as a whole will reach the 60 percent mark by 2041. However, African-American men, American Indian/Alaska Natives and Hispanics are not estimated to reach the 60 percent mark even by 2060--the furthest out the study could project. African-American women are expected to reach the 60 percent mark by 2058.

"By 2060, I'll be 101 years old, and African-American, American Indian and Hispanic populations will still not have met attainment goals," Nettles says. "If college attainment efforts aren't refocused, our country risks continuing and even broadening the current inequities in postsecondary education. …

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